Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Does Chennai Mean To Me?

This post is part of the blog tag titled, The CBC Tablog where CBC stands for Chennai Bloggers Club. About 35 bloggers from Chennai are participating in this blog tag; everyone will write about their favourite city Chennai and what it means to them. So here's my post for the CBC tablog titled, What Chennai Means To Me. Thanks for passing the baton to me Susan!

If I can describe Chennai in one word, it would be home. Indeed, that’s exactly what Chennai means to me. I was born here, I grew up here, studied here, worked here – and in fact, have even married here. 

I’ve lived almost my entire life here. Most of my special memories have been formed in Chennai. After spending more than 2 decades here, it is only reasonable that anyone would think that I would know Chennai like the back of my hand. Unfortunately, that is not so. I am not familiar with too many routes – and most definitely cannot claim to have visited every nook and cranny of this city. I am no expert on Chennai – I am still discovering the myriad delights it offers.

I think that one either loves Chennai or hates it – there are no inbetweens. Actually there is lot to dislike in Chennai – the hot and humid weather of course topping the list. When outsiders say that they don’t prefer Chennai I can totally understand their reasons. I don’t jump immediately to Chennai’s defense and deny any of its shortcomings. 

Sure, Chennai has many drawbacks, yes Chennai has its dark side. But so what? I don’t claim that Chennai is perfect. Rather, we Chennaities have simply learnt to accept its faults. We have chosen to look beyond the flaws. Afterall what is life without a few imperfections, right?

For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been living abroad mostly. Whenever I think of Chennai, I get this warm and fuzzy feeling inside me. Every time my flight hovers over Chennai, I look down eagerly at the glimmering lights, winking at me from far below and try to guess which area we are flying over (even though I'm mostly clueless!). And as we touchdown, I think, “I’m home”. Yes. Chennai is home. Home is Chennai. Yesterday, today and always.

This post will be succeeded by Aravind Kumar, who says, "Too many blogs kill the blogging spirit atleast it did mine! Crazy Traveller, Flour Miller, Lover of Food Politics."

*Photo credit: nanda_uforians (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Me Before You

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is a sentimental yet realistic story of a woman who is afraid to test her boundaries and a man who isn’t.

My first thought on reading Me Before You was that it is quite similar to the Hindi movie starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai - Guzaarish. Indeed the premise is the same. Will Traynor seems to have it all – money, looks, charm – until he is involved in a horrific accident which leaves him bed-ridden and dependent on others for everything. Lou Clark is the reluctant helper appointed to assist him.

Will is filled with bitterness and anger as he resents his fate and the fact that he doesn’t really have anything to look forward to anymore in life. Lou on the other hand is trying to find herself even as she struggles to be rid of a painful past. While everyone in Will’s life tread carefully afraid of irking him, Lou will have none of it. She refuses to be bullied by him and ignores his taunts and tantrums. She charms him with her spirit, outspokenness and a strange vulnerability. Over time a comfortable bond begins to develop between them – which eventually blooms into a fragile relationship. But what about Lou’s boyfriend? Where does he fit into this picture? And with Will having no future to speak of, where will this relationship end up?

I found this book to be an entertaining read. The ending moved me to tears – as I was desperately hoping for things to take another turn – but they don’t. This is the first book I've read by this author. I got it from a book club that I am a member of and I was fully expecting a typically romantic, candy-floss novel which would probably make me roll my eyes heavenwards with its unbearable clichés. But this book definitely went a step beyond that. 

Even if a little predictable, it wasn’t boring as it was fast-paced and things kept moving along swiftly. Although dealing with a difficult situation, the author doesn’t dwell too heavily on the depressing angles and instead manages to lighten the mood with ironic humour; which is why it makes the poignant moments tug at your heart strings and makes you wish fervently for a happy ending. In the end however, one cannot say that the ending is tragic – rather it is a practical one where each person discovers and embraces what is best for them in life.

Saying anything more would give away the story - so I'll stop here. But if you are looking for a moving and absorbing read, go for it!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Suits: A Woman On Wall Street

Suits by Nina Godiwalla is a racy story of a young woman who finds that the values and principles that she believed to be important are at loggerheads with those that the world deems to be essential.

I really enjoyed this book. Suits is a semi-autobiographical book written by an Indian-American woman who is just starting out on an exciting and challenging corporate career at Wall Street, NY. To me a good book or even a good movie is one which I can relate to, a story in which I can maybe see a little bit of myself or characters who reflect a facet of myself however minuscule it might be. That is the main reason why I don’t enjoy the current trend in Tamil cinema, where every other movie is set in a rural milieu. While such “offbeat” movies which are in fact, rapidly becoming mainstream ones might actually have a good story and talented actors, and I can of course understand the situations, I cannot put myself in their place, I cannot see myself as one among them. Now why am I talking about movies when this post is about a book? Silly me!

So in Suits, despite the fact that I am neither Indian-American nor do I have a high-blown corporate career nor am I by any stretch of imagination a finance whiz, I could still identify with the protagonist. I “get” what she says. It is an engrossing tale set in modern times and talks about what Nina had to face at her workplace on the prestigious Wall Street. By being an immigrant as well as a woman, she turns out to be a minority within a minority. Her saving grace is that she is almost “Americanized” with her looks and her accent and so although she escapes a vast majority of the discrimination, she still witnesses it being directed at more “fresh of the boat” colleagues.

While I do agree that one does need to blend in and not stick out like a sore thumb, the whole atmosphere described in the book is dead set against anything or anybody who can be considered different. The mantra practiced is Conform, Conform, Conform! Add gender discrimination to the list - if you are a woman who dresses stylishly, you’re a bimbo or if you are too social, you’re just all-talk-and-no-work. When I was working in the corporate sector, I guess these issues did exist somewhere below the surface. When people talk about sexual or racial harassment in offices, most of us might think, “Oh but I wasn’t harassed at all!” Well good for you and I must say that I wasn’t either. But one cannot deny that undercurrents were present nevertheless.

For instance, in one of my project teams I happened to be the only woman. So when the guys headed out for a smoke break with the manager or bonded over a drink – what was I supposed to do? Even if I drank or smoked, could I just go and join the gang? And everyone knows that informal communication and information does occur during such bonding sessions – which I would probably be losing out on. Or when someone cracked a sexist joke or passed a distasteful comment on some woman walking by however harmless it might be, how should I react? Should I just laugh and join in the fun and be “one of the boys”? Or should I show the fact that I do not appreciate such talk at the risk of sounding too prudish or too stuck up? Or should I just fake indifference?

Apart from these issues, Suits also talks about the pressure and stress of working in a highly competitive environment, which is blatantly focused on making revenue and coming first in the rat race, than ethics or morals. While those on the outside, might only notice the flashy lifestyle it is a fact that many workers face emotional breakdowns as they are unable to handle the constant overload and the isolation that accompanies a life of almost zero work-life balance. As Nina sees herself gradually being swept away by it all and turning into one of “them”, she is forced to take a relook at her dreams and ideals.

Along the lines, we are also offered a glimpse of Nina’s home and family life, right from childhood. Her Parsi family sounds like a typical middle-class Indian family, or maybe even any immigrant family bent on working-hard and saving money for securing their children’s future and hoisting their own dreams and hopes onto their kids. And we see the little girl in Nina, who wants to prove – to herself, to her dad, to the world – that yes she can do it, she can fulfill all those expectations, that she is worthy of their love and admiration. These chapters contain some of the most heart-warming and humorous incidents in the book. And in the end, it is also her family that stands solidly by her and keeps her sane and grounded.

Nina says that when she was writing the book, she wasn’t expecting anyone to read it. Maybe that’s why she manages to tell a honest story, dil se.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"If you don't stand for something...

Image source: The Best Travel Destinations
... you'll fall for anything" goes the quote. 

I am writing this a few days after India has decided to vote for the resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. I know I am late but I am glad.

Let me begin with a disclaimer. I cannot claim to be an avid follower of politics. I don’t have the details of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict at my finger tips. I am neither a pro-LTTE sympathizer nor a pro-Sri Lankan supporter. Rather I am merely pro-humanism. Just because I hail from Tamilnadu does not mean that I blindly support all the terrorist activities of the LTTE. And I am not supporting the call to justice, just because those affected are Tamils. No. When I see them, I simply see people. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, elders, children; just normal people like you and me, with love, hope and dreams all tinged with bitterness and sorrow. Doesn’t matter if they are Tamils or not.

Some people ask what right does India have to talk about human rights, when humans are degraded everyday in her own soil. Doesn’t matter. Yes we do need to work on improving human rights. But that does not in any way take away anything from the fact that the world needs to seek justice from Sri Lanka.

When the LTTE’s leader was shot dead almost 3 years back, I remember that our offices in Chennai closed half-day fearing a backlash of violence. All I was concerned about was reaching home safely before any riots broke out. Sri Lanka's problems, were only a series of newspaper headlines to me. I read about them as I read about umpteen other atrocities that happened every day - many much closer to home. I've always thought, "It is not happening in my country, it's not my problem. Why should I bother about it?" and relegated it to some obscure corner of my mind as I got on with my life.

So why the sudden interest, you ask? I happened to see the critically acclaimed video ‘The Killing Fields Of Sri Lanka’ recently. I am sure that the video has been around for quite a while, but I generally desist from watching such disturbing videos. I don’t know why I watched this one. But I regret it. 

If you haven’t watched it already and would like to, please do so. But I must warn you, that if you have a weak heart, please don’t. You might end up in a flood of tears or rush to the bathroom to throw up. I did both.

The former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has said in a speech and I quote, "I shall remember till the end of my days the morning when my 28 year-old son called me, sobbing on the phone to say how ashamed he was to call himself as Sinhalese and a Lankan, after he saw on the UK television a 50 minute documentary called Killing Fields of Sri Lanka which I also had the great misfortune of seeing. My daughter followed suit, saying similar things and expressing shock and horror that our countrymen could indulge in such horrific acts. I was proud of my son and daughter, proud that they cared for the others, proud that they have grown up to be the man and woman their father and mother wanted them to be."

The video is horrific to say the least. It details the war and hate crimes perpetuated by both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military on innocent civilians. Trapped, with nowhere to hide and caught between two warring factions it is heart-breaking to see the hopelessness and utter despair of these people.

In the video, a father who had to witness the agony of his teenage son, a victim of shelling die a slow and painful death says in a broken voice, “As a father, I could not save my son.” A desperate and defeated statement that no father should ever have to utter.

Another instance shows a man tied to a tree with his throat half slit, blood running down his shirt and tissue hanging out of the slit, still alive and pleading for mercy. Yet another instance, shows soldiers piling up naked bodies of women, dead, tortured and presumably raped. As one man callously drags and throws a woman’s body like a sack of potatoes, he says, “This one had the best figure”.

Why? How? How can humans be so utterly cruel? What turns a man into such a heartless animal? Is it because they suffered pain and loss because of the LTTE? Is that justification enough to become a monster? Is all really fair in love and war? If these men had wives, children and mothers, would those people even bear to look them in the eye knowing about this?  There are no easy answers.

But that does not mean that one should stop asking difficult questions. I also have a small, personal connection with Sri Lanka. My great-grandfather used to do business in Colombo all those years back. My grandmother knows Sinhalese and has travelled extensively throughout Sri Lanka a long time back and I guess we might still have some, distant relatives living there – although I personally have never met anyone and don’t really know anyone. But it makes me wonder - what if my great-grandfather had continued his business there instead of shutting shop and moving out due to inhospitable conditions? Would I be there? Would I also be one of those unfortunate living dead with haunting memories of mindless violence and irreparable loss? Or would I just be one among the many rotting dead bodies, buried in earth stained crimson?

One gains a new respect for the Mahatma in such times. There might a thousand arguments and critiques against Gandhiji and my view might be rather simplistic to the worldly-wise. But finally, isn’t the choice to be non-violent much better than choosing a path of destruction? At the end of a devastating war, really, who is happy? Doesn't an eye war an eye make the whole world blind? Doesn't fighting fire with fire burn down everything in its path? There might be an over-whelming sense of relief that the war is finally over, but peace? Happiness? Will non-violence work today? I honestly don’t know. But can a country founded on so much darkness, hope to have a peaceful and secure future?

Today India is the only Asian country that has voted against Sri Lanka. Never mind that it agreed to it only after making some amendments. Never mind that it was possibly a result of internal politics and pressure from its strategic alliances who might possibly have wanted the vote to further personal gains. Is anything going to happen now because of the resolution? I don't know. 

But in the end, I am proud that India had the guts to stand by the weak, to stand by those who have been oppressed and have no hope, to stand by those whose voices have been silenced, to stand by those who need answers and justice.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Expat Life: Ladies’ Park, Ajman

A date palm tree with young dates
It has been more than 2 years since I’ve moved to the United Arab Emirates. But I realized that I’ve hardly blogged anything about life in the UAE as such. In all these months, there are places I’ve discovered, restaurants I’ve tried, people I’ve met and various experiences I’ve had. So I’ve decided to set up a tag, Expat Life and write something regularly about the place where I first set up a ‘home’ after getting married.

So first of all, I know that a lot of people don’t really know the different Middle-Eastern countries from one another. Most people only know that there are a bunch of ‘Gulf’ countries out there – I was one among them too, before I decided to move here. And while I am still somewhat geographically challenged, atleast I can tell you that the United Arab Emirates is a collection of 7 emirates: the capital Abu Dhabi, the most popular Dubai, Ras al-Kaimah, Umm al-Qwain, Fujairah, Sharjah and finally - the one I stay in – Ajman. An emirate is like a state by itself, and each emirate has its own ruler and set of rules. And no – Saudi is not part of the UAE, Bahrain is also not UAE, nor is Qatar.

Coming to Ajman, to be brutally honest, it is a rather sleepy, dusty and boring little emirate. Read a dry-Texan-cowboy-small-town with the searing heat kicking up swirls of dust. It is relatively small, with many people treating it as the suburbs of Dubai, since the cost of living is much lesser when compared to its glamorous neighbour. So while there is a surplus of housing options – half of which lie vacant – when it comes to entertainment, there are a handful of fine dining places, a decent beach, a few shopping malls and  a couple of parks. That’s about it. Most people head out to Dubai on Thursdays (which marks the beginning of the weekend over here) for fun; and I don’t blame them as there really isn’t anything much ‘to do’ in Ajman. Yet one tries to make the best of what is provided – is there really a choice?

For quite some time now, I’ve been meaning to head to a park named ‘Ladies Park’ in Al Rashidiya area, Ajman. As the name suggests, this park is meant only for ladies – and children, regardless of the gender.  Someone I knew, once remarked, “Why is this park only for ladies? Why would I want to go to a park without my husband?” Well, maybe just to get some "me" time? Or maybe when you have one of those unavoidable domestic tiffs? Or maybe when the husband is too busy and you find yourself sitting all alone at home one evening, with absolutely nothing to do and craving for some fresh air? Although I do find myself in the former situation plenty of times, I happened to be in the latter one evening last week, when I was left to fend for myself. Pondering over the possibilities, I decided to go for a leisurely stroll. And while walking around pretty much aimlessly, I found myself in the vicinity of the Ladies Park – not surprising really, since I live rather close to it.

I decided to go ahead and check it out. Previously I had often googled for information about this park, but unfortunately couldn’t find many details. So here is a short review in case anyone is interested in knowing about this little green pocket. The entry fee is 2 AED – not a large amount at all, IMO. The park is quite well-lit and big enough to accommodate a moderate crowd. It is pretty and well maintained, with lush green lawns, clumps of palm trees, tiny hillocks, comfortable benches and long, winding paths. I visited the park on a weekend and so it was quite crowded with women gossiping away, while children ran around gleefully screeching and giggling. It looked like many had packed little picnic baskets and were happily enjoying themselves. There is also a designated play area filled with children’s play equipment to keep the kids occupied. Also there were some stalls set up, selling snacks and short-eats along with some knickknacks and trinkets.

I took a long walk and then settled down on a hillock to the smell of freshly crushed grass – which btw never fails to remind me of Marina beach, back home...

I wish I had taken a book or a notepad and pen or even my laptop. It is really a refreshing setting to read or write, along with something to munch on. Next time I intend to. I didn't take my camera either - so couldn't take any photos, will do the next time and put them up here. This time, I just looked around peacefully, observing people and smiling at the kids’ games and antics. It is quite a nice place to check out if you live somewhere nearby. Kids will surely love it and if you happen to have a bunch of gal-pals, bring them along too, for some uninterrupted bonding time!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Palace Of Illusions

The Palace Of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee  Divakaruni, is an engrossing and reflective read - which paints the Mahabharat in a relatively contemporary light.

Let me start by saying that I loved this book! There were so many things that I adored about this book – so be warned that this is going to be one long post! The Palace Of Illusions is supposed to be Panchaali’s Mahabharat. Now I haven’t actually read the Mahabharat, but growing up in India, one cannot help but be exposed to it. Apart from all TV channels telecasting never-ending episodes of the great epic, several stories, morals and proverbs form part of everyday life. So although I do not know the nitty-gritty of the Mahabharat, I am reasonably familiar with the story and the characters.

But as the author says, seldom have we ever viewed the Mahabharat from the female protagonist’s viewpoint. She plays such an important role in the unfolding of events, and yet one doesn’t delve into her psyche and analyze her thoughts or actions. Of course, I know that there are a few books that attempt to do the same, but I have not read any. But I did read The Palace Of Illusions – and in my opinion it is remarkably successful. 

The author portrays Draupadi as an impulsive, short-tempered and strong-willed woman, whose life slowly transforms her from a naïve young girl to a mature woman.  Shown in this light, it is very easy to view Draupadi as a normal woman – just like you and me – rather than a strange woman, who had no qualms about marrying five husbands or throwing a damning curse on an entire clan.

Of course, both the author as well as the reader has the benefit of hindsight while reading this book. Hence it is possible to reflect on the incidents that happen with insightful questions as the story progresses. What is admirable about the book is that  though it is not possible to portray suspense - as I assume almost everyone who reads this book would already be aware of what’s going to happen next – still it was in no way boring or dragging.

The story of the Mahabharat, by itself is quite fascinating. The boundaries between divine and human isn’t too rigid, the characters are well-etched with each having a solid purpose and their lives are intertwined by destiny. But going beyond that, I admire Chitra’s language which captures the poignancy of moments beautifully. For instance, when Draupadi ponders over Karna and his unknown mother, she says, “For the rest of her life, she would wonder where her son was. Passing every handsome stranger, she’d ask herself (just as he would, walking by women he didn’t know), Could this be-? Each morning when they awoke – in the same town, or kingdoms apart – their first thoughts would be of each other. In anger and regret, they’d both wish she’d had the courage to choose another way.

At another time, when she thinks about how the destinies of both her brother and Karna, pressed them towards tragedy, she says, “No matter how skilled they were at battle, ultimately it would not help them because they were forever defeated by their conscience. What cruel God fashioned the net of their minds this way, so they could never escape it?” How true!

She wonders, “Can our actions change our destiny? Or are they like sand piled against the breakage in a dam, merely delaying the inevitable?” Whether you believe in destiny or not, if you have ever tried to do anything which seems at loggerheads with it, this quote will surely resonate with you – it did with me.

And if you’ve ever felt vengeance in your blood even for a passing second, so will this; “Is the desire for vengeance stronger than the longing to be loved? What evil magic does it possess to draw the human heart so powerfully to it?

When Draupadi tells us what she learnt after the shameful disrobing incident, I cannot help but agree whole-heartedly; “All this time I’d believed… that because they (her husbands) loved me they would do anything for me. But now I saw that though they did love me – as much perhaps as any man can love – there were other things they loved more. Their notions of honor, of loyalty toward each other, of reputation were more important to them than my suffering. They would avenge me later, yes, but only when they felt the circumstances would bring them heroic fame. A woman doesn’t think that way. … I wouldn’t have cared what anyone thought. The choice they made in the moment of my need changed something in our relationship. I no longer depended on them so completely in the future. And when I took care to guard myself from hurt, it was as much from them as from our enemies. For men, the softer emotions are always intertwined with power and pride.

I am sure that any woman who has had a meaningful relationship can understand Draupadi’s sentiments here. To draw parallels to the world that we live in, even today, there are many men who will gladly help their wives with household chores – because they care about her and see nothing wrong in giving her a hand. BUT these same men, would hesitate to accept in front of their friends that yes, they do the dishes every night or that they wash their wives clothes once a week. Why? It’s because they fear that other people would think less of them, they are apprehensive that their reputation might be harmed and their pride might be hurt. They might have all the good intentions of not doing something; but if continuously taunted with “Why? Did you wife tell you not to do this?”, invariably they give in as it translates to a lack of manly power and control.

Apart from Panchaali, the character which most impacted me was of course Karna. What a cursed, cursed life and what a sad, sad death! Karna is the quintessential tragic hero - and one can never forget tragic heros, can we? And finally, when the great war ends, one does not feel any kind of triumph, jubilation or happiness. We can only feel the sorrow, the pain, the loss and the futility of it all. The Pandavas won. So what? And at what cost? Was it really worth all the trouble and sacrifice?

Although this book is from a women's point of view, I did not think it to be overly feminist. Yes several practices are questioned, but the questions could be from any modern woman of today. For example, when Sikhandi relates his story, he says that when he went back to his lover Salva as the Princess of Amba, she was turned away on the pretext that she was contaminated as Bheeshma had taken her by hand and that she belonged to him now. To this she replies, "If someone grasps my hand against my will, how does that make me his? I'm the one who decides to whom I belong." She goes on to add, "In the sandalwood days of love, I thought that if I could not have Salva, I would die. Now I discovered that a woman's life is tougher than a banyan root, which exists without soil or water."

Another incident which struck a chord with me was, when Panchaali wonders about Gandhari's vow to blindfold herself as her husband in also sightless. "... I agreed that Gandhari's sacrifice wan't particularly intelligent. If my husband couldn't see, I'd make doubly sure to keep my own eyes open..." Many a times have I thought the same thing!

Attempting to rewrite a classic epic is no mean task. Many writers say that a story ‘wrote itself’ once they began to write it. But here, that is not possible. It is afterall not your own creative story that you are writing. You cannot simply go off on a tangent, giving free reign to your imagination. You need to have the facts right and then use your imagination to interpret events and actions within the boundaries of what has already been written. And Chitra has done a fantastic job. I strongly recommend this marvellous book.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Art Of Conversation

You know at times, you have allll the time in the world but absolutely no idea what to blog about. And then at times, your head is simply bursting with ideas popping up one after another – but you have no time to blog! Why does these two have to be mutually exclusive!? Reminds me of a Tamil saying, ‘Kalla kanda naaya kanom, naaya kanda kalla kanom’!

Have you ever had mind-boggling stupid conversations with anyone? I do not claim to be a supreme genius and for sure, I have my own stupidities. But I am talking about chats that are so totally, utterly, completely senseless that in fact, all you can do is shake your head and wonder ‘why, why me?’
Image source: Rotten Tomatoes

Up In The Air

For instance, there I was all set to fly to India. I was going by myself as my husband would join me later in Chennai. Usually when I fly alone, I choose a cozy window seat, snuggle up and read a book. This time was no different. Since I was flying on Diwali, there was not much of a crowd and most of the seats were unoccupied. Sending up a silent cheer, I happily settled into my seat with my nose buried in a book, which happened to be Growing Up Bin Laden (whose review will follow later). A few minutes into the journey, I vaguely heard a man from behind me say, “Nowadays people grab some English novel as soon as the flight starts and simply show off that they are reading something great.”

On hindsight, I guess this man was referring to me. But my senses were so tuned into reading the book that I only vaguely registered the comment, somewhere in the distant background. After a short while, the same voice interrupted me. “Excuse me, madam. One minute can I see the book you are reading?” 

Although slightly annoyed at being disturbed, I said, “Sure” and handed him the book. He took a look at the book and then said, “Wow! Hats off to you madam! At this young age you are reading such amazing books! I thought that you were simply trying to show off with some popular novel but if you are interested in reading such books, then you are simply wonderful. I salute you and your parents!

Now seriously, I don’t think there is anything to be so effusive about reading that book. I like reading and the book caught my fancy – and so I picked it up. It’s as simple as that. In any case, I gave a small smile , thanked him, retrieved my book and continued to read. But this man would not let me be! He went on to enlighten me about his life, his job, his family and how he is always trying to make his daughter read but she is only interested in watching TV serials. Plus suddenly he said, “You look like Priya Mani (an actress) from this angle.” Whhhaaa??!? I can assure you friends, that I have absolutely nothing in common with Priya Mani! To maintain basic civility, I kept nodding politely while secretly wishing that he’d just shut up. After a while, food was served. Hoping that this would silence him, I dug into the food and returned to my book.

But no! This man had an opinion to offer on everything! He said, “Madam, please enjoy your food. Keep aside the book and concentrate on eating.” Yeah right! As if I was sitting in an upscale restaurant refusing to savour my gourmet meal! It was boxed airplane food for God’s sake! By now I was nearing the end of my patience, which is never too high to begin with. I curtly told him, “No it’s okay. I can manage.” He insisted, “No listen to me. You can read after eating. Already you are wearing specs. Don’t spoil your eyes reading in this light.” I was like WTHHH??!?? This time I replied with a little asperity, “It is my wish. What is your problem?”  And to this the bloody man had the gall to say, “Oh you are answering like this to me. Wonder how you will talk to your husband. I pity him - God only should save him!!

Exasperated, I just turned my back on him and went back to my book and food. After eating, he continued to try to start another useless conversation – but I pretended to sleep and he left me alone. Our flight journey wasn’t too long and so soon it was time to disembark. Now this man found the opportunity to question, “Is someone coming to pick you up?” When I replied in the affirmative, he responded, “Oh you are all born with a silver spoon, someone will come to meet you. Me? No one is coming for me.” I am a young lady landing in the middle of the night. You, are a 50 year old man. Why on earth do you need someone to come and pick you up!!!???

As he kept on bombarding me with more and more questions, I finally lost it and said loudly enough for people to turn around, “Please mind your own business.” And even for this retort, the shameless creature continued saying, “Ah! This, this is what I like about you. The boldness, the confidence is so admirable. Blah blah blah…”. His voice faded as I stomped off.

If this kind of nonsense is not enough to muddle your brains, here is yet another sample.

Image source: Amature Photographer
Husband = God. In case you don't know, that is Tamil Culture

Someone I know pinged me asking, “How are you?” I replied, ‘By God’s grace, I’m doing good.’  He said, “Why are you telling by God’s grace? You can tell by your husband’s grace na?” I was like, huh??!, but I remarked on a lighter tone, “Because God is above husband!” His response word for word, “Here after u have treat ur husband as a god that is our tamil culture."

If I had had some better sense, I should have probably logged off then and there. But now I was irked. So I continued, “More than a Tamil girl I am a Christian girl. For us God is above everything and everyone. Without God even my husband won't be there. So God is most important.

But you are not illiterate. Do talk abt religion caste.

Why not? So only illiterate ppl should talk about God is it?

No talk abt religion.

I believe in my God and I am not afraid to talk about my beliefs. I am not asking you to believe. Whether you believe or not is up to you. But you cannot tell me not to talk abt my God.”

But from where this religion comes  without Tamilnadu.

So if I was born in some other state? Christianity wouldn’t have reached me?
Seriously what is this guy trying to say??? Can somebody explain!?

I will always believe god thats what i got good pair.” (No comments!!)
 Literate people will not talk abt religion and caste. i am educated. dont talk like village girl.” (Excuse me!!!??)

If literate ppl don't talk about things - then the world will never improve. And who are you to judge what topics literate ppl talk about? You can only choose what you can talk. Who gave you the right to choose what other people should or should not talk??

I am educated. I am ashamed of people like you. No can change such people. You are talking like mad.
(Yes truly, by now I was hopping mad!)

I live in a free world where I can express my opinions. I can talk what I want to - as long as it doesn’t interfere in another person's business. Who the hell are you to tell me what I can talk and what I can't? Who gave you that right?

We are also beliving god, muslium also.

So? Did I say that you don't? Or did I say that you should only believe Jesus? I said I believe in Jesus. Thats all.

Again I am tellign fortunately you was born in chris. if not hindu or muslim giving respect to husband be a tamilgirl for that no need chris.hindu or muslium.

I never said that I don't respect my husband. All I said was that God is above everyone. That doesn't mean that I don't respect my husband.”

It means that he is serving you on behalf of the god. so you have to give first preferrence to your husband.

No one is ‘serving’ me ok? Our relationship is mutual. He loves me and I love him, he does certain things for me and I do certain things for him. He is not my servant to serve me. He is my husband and we are happy to be with each other. So you don't tell me how I should be with my husband. A wife knows her husband best. I know what he wants and what he likes. If you have some philosophy reg married life, you apply it in your life.  Don't ask other ppl to apply it in theirs, because every husband-wife relationship is unique. My relationship with my husband is personal.  You don't need to give your comment on how I should behave with my husband.

I will never give second place to my wife.”

And right after saying that, he went on to ask if I have a webcam as he wants to see me after a long time!!!

So people, how about you? Have you had such insightful conversations too?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Copycats & Smelly Rats

It all started with an innocent tweet

"What a boring weekend...", I thought, while aimlessly surfing the internet yesterday. I had just started getting active on Twitter a couple of weeks back and so was into exploring more about it. Since last week I had started "following" Ameera Al Hakawati, the author of the book Desperate In Dubai, which I had reviewed on this blog earlier this week. She tweeted that her book review was published in one of the leading national newspapers of the UAE, namely Khaleej Times(KT) and I decided to check it out. I started reading the review - and couldn't believe my eyes!! I ran my eyes over it again - and again - but no matter how many times I read it, I still couldn't believe it. What couldn't I believe you ask? The words. They were mine.

Wait a minute! That look familiar!

Was I imagining things? I quickly called my husband and asked him to read both the review on my blog and the one on that newspaper. He did and confirmed my suspicions. The writer had shamelessly lifted half of my review and coolly passed it off as her's! I was so shocked that I immediately replied to Ameera's tweet saying that the review has been copied and she responded saying

@annejwrites I noticed that! I thought u two were the same person that's how similar they were! What are u going to do about it?!
Smelling something fishy, I decided to comb the internet for other reviews of the book and voila! What do I find? The writer had cleverly copied a few lines from several other sources - a paragraph from here and a paragraph from there - and there you have it! A full article which you can proudly announce as written by you. I did a quick search on Copyscape for my blog review page and it promptly threw up the other review. Here is a snapshot

 Whatever happened to ethics & standards?

I have heard so much about plagiarism but never thought that I would be a victim of it. Much less, to a well-known national newspaper!! What is worse is that the writer is actually an award winning journalist! I just cannot understand why an award-winning and experienced journalist had to indulge in such deplorable practices. I was not asked permission nor was I given credit, at the least I wasn't even notified. I immediately wrote to both the editor as well as the writer, a Ms.Raziqueh Hussain, but unfortunately neither have bothered to respond, nor has the offensive review been changed or taken down. I too am part of the media industry and I know how much I have sacrificed and struggled to be where I am. Apart from being disappointed with the total lack of journalistic ethics, it is also deeply painful to see my work being misused in such a way.

I did not want anyone accusing me of telling tall stories and spreading false claims and so I took screenshots of the original article as well as the sources from which they have been plagiarized from. Note the lines circled in red - those are the lines that have been specifically copied with a few words possibly changed here and there.

The evidence speaks for itself

The plagiarized article: http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp?section=diversions&xfile=data/diversions/2012/february/diversions_february8.xml

The copied introduction:

 A few more copied lines:

And finally the major chunk of copied content: 

I know that it is quite difficult to make things out from the above snapshots. So here is a clearer picture:

KT’s Article Extract: At first, the title Desperate in Dubai is quite deceptive. It appears to be one of those yet-another-chick-lit type of book, which it isn’t. Writing under a nom de plume Ameera Al Hakawati’s story is about four women; however it isn’t Sex and the City (which again you might be tempted to think).
On initial sight, the book’s title is quite deceptive. It appears to be one of those yet-again-another-chick-lit type of book, which it isn’t. Desperate in Dubai, well it is about four women, however it isn’t Sex and the City (which some of you might be tempted to think). 
KT’s Article Extract: The novel is a tale similar in structure to the bestselling novel Girls Of Riyadh. There are four central female characters, chosen “because they represent the kinds of people living in Dubai”.
The novel is a tale similar in structure to the bestselling novel Girls Of Riyadh. There are four central female characters, chosen "because they represent the kinds of people living in Dubai". 
KT’s Article Extract: The dilemmas of the women are mostly to do with matters of the heart more than anything else — but still this is hardly a romance novel. These four women, seemingly have everything in life, be it money or beauty, and their weaknesses, vulnerabilities as well as their darker sides are exposed.
Somehow you can’t relate to them, even though you might meet some like them. Most of these women spend their time driving flashy cars, flaunting designer clothes and club-hopping, leading extravagant lifestyles, which quite simply, I (and I suspect you too) can’t afford. Having said that, one area that you will find true is when the author speaks of the social hierarchy that exists where the locals are placed above all (understandable, as it’s their country after all), followed by white-skinned people and only then do Asians and the rest of the world come into the picture.
Also, the names of characters are unimpressive. While Leila and Nadia are okay, but Sugar? Who names anyone Sugar, anyway? It sounds more like a candy than a name! Lady Luxe is weird although thankfully, we come to know that it is only a pseudonym.
The book also speaks a lot about the famous locales of Dubai — not from a touristy perspective, but from an insider’s.
It was good to read a book which spoke so much about the locales of Dubai – not from a touristy perspective, but from an insider’s. I am not really an expert of Dubai landmarks, but still it was nice to follow the characters around familiar places. Also I liked the observations that the writer has made about general life in Dubai, as I could very well relate to it. For example, she explains how the social hierarchy is structured – Arabs are the all important ones (which is kinda understandable, this being their country and all), followed by white-skinned people and only then do we Indians and the rest of the world including Filipinos and Africans come into the picture. So true! One can almost feel the stigma and this favouritism is quite evident even with employers who specifically state, “Only Western educated candidates will be considered”!
But that is where the similarity ends. My life is in no way similar to any of the main protagonists, who spend their time driving flashy cars, flaunting designer clothes and club-hopping at expensive discs, in short leading a totally extravagant lifestyle, which quite simply, I (and I suspect you too) can’t afford. Having said that, I found the book quite intriguing and the drama involved, pretty racy. The way the author has inter-connected the stories of the four leading ladies and inter-woven their lives is quite appealing. 
The dilemmas of the women, are mostly to do with matters of the heart more than anything else – but still Desperate In Dubai, is hardly a romance novel. It goes into the lives of four women, who seemingly have everything in life, be it money or beauty, and exposes their weaknesses, vulnerabilities as well as the darker side of their characters.
If there was one thing that I wasn’t too impressed with, it is the names of the main characters. While Leila and Nadia are okay, Lady Luxe is weird although thankfully, we come to know that it is only a pseudonym; but Sugar?? Who names anyone Sugar anyway!? It sounds more like an endearment than a name.
The dates in each of the other sources clearly indicate which of these were published first. As a friend told me, Imitation is the best form of flattery and I thank the distinguished Ms.Hussain for flattering me and for making me realize my true worth.  

Quoting a well-known blogger, Shail, "...what makes people not even try to have an opinion, a liking of their own? What’s so great about copying someone else’s work and being praised for it? Even if you aren’t caught by others, doesn’t your own heart know the truth?!"

I don't think I need say more. I rest my  case.

EDITED on 20/02/2012 TO ADD: Good news people! So I finally got a mail from the Editor saying, "...the person in question has been relieved of her services and is no longer with us."
If that is true, then wow! I mean all I expected was them to take down the plagiarized article (which they have done) or give me credit and maybe an apology. Didn't expect someone to lose their job - although I am sure that with her credentials and experience, not to mention the awards, she can easily land a job elsewhere. Anyway so this is how the story ends! 

EDITED on 21/02/2012 TO ADD: This is becoming one never-ending post! Just wanted to say that today the journalist replied to me saying that she had already quit the newspaper and that the article was published by someone else under her name in a bid to tarnish her image. Now, what does one believe!?


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