Feb 25, 2011

Ramayn Poll Results

Dear Friends,
thank you for voting on my poll.
There were 14 voters, out of which

1 (7%) voted that Ramayana should be worshiped
1 (7%) voted that Ramayana should not be worshiped
12 (85%) voted that Ramayana should be viewed only as literature
1 (7%) voted that Ramayana should be banned for gender discrimination

I am thankful to Richa for the bold and radical step of banning the Ramayana, and I don't know who it is that said Ramayana should actually be worshiped. It is probably good that I don't know, coz if I did, I would ban you from my site, hehe.
I am glad that everyone else thinks Ramayan's literary aspect is more important than others.

Feb 23, 2011

Advertisement: Visual Hypnotizing

What is your favorite brand of coffee? Let me guess! Like everybody else, you like Nescafe Instant coffee. In fact, that might even be the only coffee brand that you can recall. Wait a minute, why is Nescafe the only coffee brand you know? Have you ever even heard of any other brand, on TV or in newspaper? No, because it is the only brand that has such enticing advertisements on television. Have you ever noticed how the pretty girl with long curls lovingly scoops out a huge mound of coffee on her spoon? Have you ever tried to make a cup of coffee with the exact same amount of powder? Don't. I tried it, and my father's pithy reaction was that it was more like "coal coffee" than "black coffee".

Such aggressive marketing that promotes overconsumption through visuals is very common in television. It consists of showing large quantities of a product highlighted in a visually alluring manner. The camera lovingly pans over them as soft golden light fills the frame. The whole effect is so delicious that you feel guilty if you don’t use the same amount in real. Coffee advertisements are just an example of this aggressive technique that encourages you to use, and as a consequence, buy more and more of the stuff. There are millions of other such “visually hyped up” products, including brilliantly colored turmeric and red chili powder, cauldrons full of sizzling oil (in which are made piles and piles of pakodas and puris and what not) and many more. These products, if ever used in as vast quantities as shown on TV, will lead to severe ulcer, and not enhancement of taste.

Well, chilli powder and other condiments might be easy to regulate based on your taste, but what about the products that hit below the belt? Like perfumes that send scantily clad women crazy? Yes, I am talking about axe and its many companions. Ever notice how copious the high intensity spray is, like water from your garden hose? Ever notice how the guy practically bathes in the perfume, from head to toe? Ever notice how long the camera focuses on the spraying process, even depicting the ricocheting drops in the air? The speed is slow and dreamy, and again, soft golden light spills into the frame, creating an aura of magic. If you ever douched yourself in the perfume like that, everyone around you would faint, and not because they like the smell !

Speaking of grooming products, when I was a child I would put globs and globs of toothpaste on my brush, mesmerized by the bright red gel of close up toothpaste that they definitely made a point to show a close up of. Notice the bright red of the toothpaste shade? And the shinning “shimmer crystals” or whatever inside it? It’s just toothpaste, but it still manages to shine like a Disney princess’s dress.

Much later, when I was big, broke, and hard up, and trying to make every penny stretch. When I tried to make every tube of toothpaste stretch, I realized that toothpaste that fills just half, or maybe a quarter of the brush, works as well as the big glob. I made a few quick calculations: a tub of toothpaste costs approximately Rs. 40 and lasts a month. I used a fifth of this tube for 12 months of the year for 20 years. My total cost of toothpaste usage was something around Rs. 1600. We have already decided that one fourth of toothpaste usage is enough. Hence, I wasted three fourths of the toothpaste usage money, resulting in a loss of 1200 rupees of my parents’ money. I sadly regret it. The thought now strikes me that I was the only person in the house doing the big glob thing, which means that while I used 4X toothpaste, everybody else used just X, or 2X at most. This upends my calculations. I am too exhausted to calculate again. But I still vaguely realize that since I used up more than a fifth of the paste, I wasted more money than 1200 rupees. Not counting the perfume douches and the coal coffees. I am reeling in shock right now. I think I need a relaxing shower. With streams and streams of shampoo. And then I will go out and have a nice day to recuperate. I can just feel my good temper returning, with the thought of the dollops and dollops of fair and lovely that I am going to slather on my face soon. Yes, I have my revenge on the advertisers now!

Feb 19, 2011

The oddities of eating out in America


Scene: A restaurant somewhere in the tiny village of Macomb in America
Characters:
Sewa: Perpetually lost in her world
Sabina: The decisive one
Shaili: The hyper one
Nitika: The sensible one
Sudheer: Detached observer, speaks in trademark flat voice
Waitress
Above mentioned motley crew minus the waitress enters the restaurant.

Sabina (reading aloud at podium): please wait to be seated.

Sewa waltzes towards a table.

Shaili: OH NO, THEY ARE GOING TO THROW SEWA OUT, SHE DIDN’T WAIT TO BE SEATED!

Nitika blinks, and hurries forward to grab Sewa and pull her back to the podium. Sewa vaguely follows her, assuming they don’t like the view from the table she chose. The waitress takes them to a table and seats them.

Waitress: Do you want anything to drink?

Nitika: Can I have a soda?

Sewa: Don’t have soda, its yucky and tasteless.

Waitress to Nitika: Ok, what do you want? Coke? Pepsi? Sprite?

Nitika: Pepsi, please.

Sewa: I thought you wanted a Soda.

Sabina: makes eye at Sewa.

Sewa: What? I was just trying to help ….

Sabina: (furiously hisses to Sewa): coke, pepsi, and the whole family of soft drinks, including dr. pepper, a brand of particularly nasty American soft drink, are called soda.

Shaili: AND WHAT IF WE EVER WANT REAL NEPALI SODA? NO ONE WILL UNDERSTAND, AND THEY WILL GIVE US BOTTLES OF PEPSI INSTEAD…

Sudheer (trademark flat voice, to be called tfv hereafter): What’s all this hullaballoo? You can call all those soft drinks pop instead!

Sewa: Pop as in the POP sound? Or as in pop music? Or as in informal for papa?

Shaili: THAT STILL DOESN’T SOLVE THE PROBLEM, IF I ASKED FOR POP AND SODA, THEY WILL GIVE ME COKE AND PEPSI…

Sewa (morose): I would rather just have tea then, I am cold anyways…

The waitress places four huge glasses in front of the girls. Sewa wraps her hands around her huge glass of tea. Only then notices that it is full of ice.

Sewa: Oh hell, I wanted hot tea, what’s this?

Shaili: OH NO SHE GOT YOU A FANCY DRINK, MUST COST YOUR WEEK’S SALARY!

Nitika (whispers in Nepali, pretending to be talking about the weather): Cold is what you will get you here if you order regular tea.

Sudheer (tfv): Hey kid, you can have the kai tea if you want.

Sewa: What’s that?

Waitress: points at the menu which has chai tea written on it.

Sewa: So basically I will order the tea tea? Or the chai chiya?

Waitress: Huh?

Sewa: Never mind, I will make do with the regular tea today.

The waitress comes and fills in Nitika’s glass with more pepsi.

Sewa (staring daggers at the waitress): We didn’t ask for another glass of Pepsi.

Nitika: claps her hand over Sewa’s mouth before she can say anything else.

Shaili: OH NO, THEY ARE GOING TO CHARGE US EXTRA.

Sudheer (tfv): Refills are free here.

Sewa: (blink blink) huh?

Sabina: Yes, it says so right here in the menu, one bottomless glass of Pepsi for $2.79.

Sewa: I thought bottomless meant a glass without a bottom…

Nitika: Haha that would be just a pipe.

Sewa: Yea so I was wondering how you hold your drink in a pipe…

Sabina: Shut up, it just means they will keep refilling and you will never see the bottom!

Waitress: What do you want to eat?

Nitika: I will have a doughnut.

Shaili: Sandwich, please.

Sabina: Pasta…

Sudheer(tfv): No such dangerous American food for me.

Sewa to Sabina (light bulb goes on in mind): Let’s share the pasta.

Waitress: Extra cost for splitting pasta!

Sewa: huh? (light bulb goes off, is morose).

Sabina(to waitress): Nothing for Sewa. (To Sewa in aside whisper): We can share later anyways.

Shaili: NO YOU CANT; THEY WILL CHARGE US EXTRA IF THEY SEE US SPLIT!

After getting the order:

Sewa to Nitika: Damn, I thought you asked for a doughnut, and this is rectangular and 
doesn’t have a hole in it.
Nitika: Relax, the rectangular things without holes are also called doughnuts!

Shaili: I ORDERED A SANDWICH AND WHY DID THEY GIVE ME A HOT DOG?

Nitika: Relax, they usually serve such huge breads for sandwiches…

Sabina: Why is my pasta cold?

Nitika: Re…

Shaili: AND WHY IS EVERYTHING IN MY SANDWICH RAW?

Nitika: Phew!

Later, Waitress: Do you want a box?

Sewa: No thanks, we have enough boxes at home….

Nitika stamps over Sewa’s toe, while Sabina says “yes please…”

Sewa: Ouch! What? We don’t need a box… I just got a package of books and they came in a big box. You can have it if you want….

Sabina: Shut up, the box is for taking the leftovers home…

Shaili: OHH ITS NOT A BOX THEN, IT’S A HINT, THEY JUST WANT US TO LEAVE!

Nitika: Relax, she is just being attentive.

Shaili: OH REALLY, THEN WHY DOES SHE WANT US TO PACK UP?

Waitress: So are you ready for the ticket?

Sewa (mumbling): What ticket, college buses are free, no ticket required, I wish you would get our bills though….

Sabina(to the waitress): Yes please.

Later, Waitress with bill: Here’s your check, guys!

Shaili: WOW, WE GOT FREE MONEY FOR EATING OUT!

Sudheer: Rolls his eyes.

Feb 16, 2011

Ramayan: Do we Really know it?

Lakshman rekha, the word is so famous in Nepal that it needs no explanation. Just in case, Lakshman rekha is the mythical line drawn by Lakshman around his sister in law Sita to protect her, with express instructions that she should not cross it under any circumstances. Sita ultimately did cross the Lakshman rekha. All of us are familiar with this story. And we would be very surprised if we knew that the Lakshman rekha does not exist in Valmiki Ramayan. Yes, you read right, Lakshamn Rekha does not exist. In the original Valmiki Ramayan, Ravan approaches Sita’s house as a sadhu, and Sita welcomes him as a guest should be. He shamelessly proposes to her. When Sita refuses, he introduces himself. Sita is still not convinced after his braggadocio, and Ravan forcibly abducts her, with no transgression of instructions on Sita’s part.

We don’t know when or how the idea of Lakshman rekha entered Nepali society. Bhanubhakta’s Ramayan, a major source of Ramayan info in Nepal, has no mention of Lakshman rekha, and neither does Tulasidasa’s version popular in North India. Ramananda Sagar’s TV serial, popular all over the Hindu world, does contain a dramatic version of Lakshman rekha, and was a major source of information for many people. But from what I know, the concept of Lakshman rekha existed much before Ramananda Sagar invaded our living rooms. Maybe it has its source in an obscure version of Ramayan, or maybe it was a truly folk invention without a base in literature. Whatever it is, for generations it has been a catch phrase to describe women’s transgressions from their roles ascribed to them in patriarchal societies. It has been used to vilify a blameless Sita, and prove that women, whoever they are, better not act on their foolish impetuous natures. And, you might say, it was not even true.

The “truth” of the story might not be easy to determine in this case, because Ramayan is as much a folktale as a piece of literature. Its later folk additions have given it flavors that have enriched the bare bones sketched by Valmiki. Sometimes these additions have captured our imagination so well that they have come to define our understanding and interpretation of the story, and of social values. The example of Lakshman rekha is an example of this phenomenon. There are many other folk additions to the Valmiki Ramayan that surprise us because we have so long believed them to be original.

For example, there are the floating stones of Ram Setu that serve an important function in the story: that of accentuating Ram’s divinity. Throughout the text, Ram is treated as a brave man and does not do anything godlike. Apart from two long and boring monologues by gods near the end of the story, there are no mentions of his divinity. But we all vaguely “know” that Ram accomplished many magical deeds, the bridge being one of them. However, in the text, all of Rama’s deeds are human. They are brave, daring, and courageous, humanly so and not divine. Their divinity was established and exaggerated by later additions. An example is the famed floating stones that do not exist in the text. Ram Setu does exist, but is built by the gifted architect Nala, and is made of trees, vines and stones that are real and sinking. But a normal, physical bridge is no fun at all, and a man who can make stones float must certainly be a god! So the floating stones stayed, and folk imagination is full of stories that if “Ram” was written on a stone, it would float. There are even photos of floating stones between India and Sri Lanka that people swear on. Whether or not floating stones exist today is not a part of this article, but they definitely were not a part of Ram’s bridge to Lanka.

Among other differences between the folk and text versions of Ramayan is the Swayamvar scene depicted lavishly for several days in the serial. The Swayamvar ceremony does not exist in the Valmiki or Bhanubhakta versions. Highly mythologized character Shabri and her berries are conspicuously absent, and so is the ambrosia in Ravan’s navel, source of his instantly generating heads. In fact, Ram kills Ravan through his perseverance and courage in battle, not through Vibhishan’s knowledge of the secret. Antediluvian compliments like “bull among men” and “lady with thighs like elephant trunks” make us laugh out loud (eww, who wants thighs like that?).The relationships between Ram and Vibhashan, Ram and Sugriv, Ram and Bharat, and even Ram and Ravan, could all do with reassessments. For example, Bharat loves Ram unconditionally, but Ram is suspicious of Bharat’s motives at every step, and twice sends Lakshman to check if Bharat is feeling murderous towards him.

These are issues that enrich our understanding of the text but are not vital in their implication. However, it is important that major issues that define gender roles in our society be identified and reexamined. Lakshman rekha is one of them. There is no cause to cite the nonexistent Lakshman rekha to prove women’s gullibility anymore, for Sita was never guilty of crossing it. Ramayan is definitely admirable as a wonderful piece of literature and a very thrilling story, but there is no reason to continue to worship this story that has come to symbolize all that is wrong about gender roles in our culture.

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