Sunday, June 27, 2010

It is all your fault, ladies

The issues change.

In high school, friends complained about getting low marks, or getting bullied.

In college, it was mostly about getting treated unfairly by members of opposite sex.

And then we grew up. The pet gripes changed. Two body problem is certainly ruining the world, no doubts about it whatsoever. Also insensitive husbands, unsympathetic mother-in-laws and male dominated society are to blame. While each situation is unique and a generic oversimplification is unfair, I say this to my oppressed sistren, mostly you are at fault. You waited, and just let it happen to you.

It is always about who has the position of power. In Indian context, an arranged marriage and subsequent loss of financial independence effectively hands the power over to the husband. Once he is allowed to be the provider, he has the control, and quite rightfully so. Complaining of subjugation at that stage is pointless. A disproportionately large number of Indian women think their career is expendable when they enter in a matrimonial relationship. Now of course everyone would not have a very successful, or even a happy career, and that is often the excuse. That is however, beside the point - financial independence can do wonders is times of crisis. And generally for the morale.

The problem is deeper than that, of course. Many (not all, thankfully) Indian men marry because they want someone "at home", as clearly evident by the matrimonial advertisements in newspapers. In that case, obviously a woman having a job would not fit the bill. Now before one starts blaming men as the chauvinistic pigs, look at the mirror. Why these men are getting a steady supply of females willing to act as maid servants? I am no economist, but evidently the law of supply and demand holds. As long as a man can get someone to cook his dinner, wash his dishes, and generally clean after him everyday, with some free sex thrown in, why would he not take it? Why would anybody not take it? He is not to blame. If the supply was cutoff, marrying actually meant marrying a real person for these guys, sooner or later they will get used to it. Like in many other cultures - men do not get to completely dominate domestic dynamics, because women can easily walk out of the door, carrying only emotional baggage, but not worried about food, shelter, and what the neighbors would say.

But we Indians, do it strangely, We want the best of both worlds. We want to be traditional yet liberal. We force them into marriage which require them to quit their study or job. We expect them to sacrifice for the sake of family. And then, inexplicably, we want them to be happy too. They try. When after trying hard, things do not work out, it is too late for them to take a stand. No sympathies, mate - you brought it upon yourself. If you are taking s***, because you are allowing him to get away with it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

(To my Indian friends) Why "you" are not a Brazilian?

I like tragic heroes. Be it in literature or sports, and so the Dutch football team has always been a personal favorite, helped in no small amount by the exquisite crisp football they play. They play like world beaters one day, and lose to an unsuspecting opponent the next day, never really fulfilling the promise they show. Tragic indeed. But what would be more tragic? If I buy an orange shirt, run around my neighborhood with a Netherlands flag, celebrate each their win as "our" win, and when they inevitably lose, pick a fight with someone who denigrated "my" team in anyway.

Oh wait, is not that a majority of Calcuttans (and others from subcontinent) do? Replace Netherlands with the Brazil or Argentina, and during the World cup, you would like think Calcutta is an extended suburb of Rio or Buenos Aires. Except, that it is not. And you make a complete fool of yourself.

You may think dividing the world up in so many countries is purely artificial. However, since that is indeed the case, national identity is synonymous with national pride. Be it for the smallest country playing in the World cup, who would suffer humiliating defeats and go out, their supporters would still be passionately cheering for them till the last whistle. That is why club football is different from international games, or in US, professional sports from college sports. You can be a fan of any club or professional outfit, although in most cases, they loyalty is geographic. However, you can not be a citizen of another country, or somehow be affiliated to a college, unless you are actually one.

I get asked if India is playing in the World cup a lot. While that is embarrassing, at least now I have another team to support, since I have an American passport. I hear all sorts of snide remarks from Indians, starting from who cares about football in USA to they are lucky to win. Well, my friend, this team is at least in the world cup (just an aside, the US soccer federation chief is of Indian descent) while your team is not. No, your team does not wear yellow or striped white-blue colors.

I know you will get angry and hurt hearing that. You have no affiliation/attachment to another country, where you are neither living, nor were born. Liking their football is one thing, but identifying yourself as one of them just betrays your complete lack of national pride, and identity. Whether or not you can sympathize with street children playing the game in rags in Brazil is completely irrelevant here, since they are not unique to Brazil (why not support Ghana then?), and the national team players are hardly underprivileged. You are unlucky that your teams sucks, but that hardly makes you a Brazilian. Even a pseudo-one for a month. Brazil winning is not you winning, it is still they winning. Hard luck.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Helsinki and Tallinn

Helsinki is an interesting city. Not terribly unique, considering I have been to many European cities, but it has its way of imposing its will on the visitors. That is in spite of the fact that most locals I interacted with speak excellent English, certainly a welcome change from Dresden. However, despite the similarity in language with the Germans, the mindset did not seem German at all. Trains and trams were running late routinely, instructions were often vague, and worse, buses did not announce stops. The name of main train station seemed different depending on which tram or train you are coming by, and many of the other stop names were either too long or had too many vowels (and magically ones got added or subtracted overnight, I am sure), making them indistinguishable from each other!

So navigating all that, I finally find my hotel. I was slightly perplexed by the fact that the Finnish(?) word for elevator sounds suspiciously similar to the word for peeing in Bengali (well, with a million languages in the world, you will end up with such coincidences occasionally, like the Czech word for exit reminded me of an unmentionable sexual act in Bengali, but that does not stop one from noticing).

But the bigger surprise awaited me. At midnight, this is how the conversation went between my friend and me:

Me: You realize that this place is WEIRD?
Friend: Yes, its still not dark.

There you have it. At midnight, there was still light outside, like it is early evening. I have seen sun setting late in Paris and Geneva, but now I knew why Geography textbooks in high school mentioned these parts of the world as land of midnight sun. I dont think I ever saw complete darkness in my short stay there - and my friend says she did not either, inspite of staying up late a couple of nights. That is both good and bad when you are a tourist, good because you can start the day late and still have enough time to explore the places, however you miss out on the night pictures.

Few pretty churches and palatial structures adorn the city, the touristy part of it is remarkably small and walkable.

The most popular area is certainly the market square, an open air market adjacent to the waterfront. On a weekend morning, it was abuzz with people buying useless but tempting articles, and eating delicious meat pie and freshly fried fish. I bought a plateful of fried "vendage", and within minutes had to duck for cover from a bunch of mean looking seagulls hovering above - clearly having and eating your fish required some alert maneuvering.

Next was a short boat ride to Suomenlinna, a former sea fortress, mostly in ruins now. It was still nice to walk around the island, following what remained of the fortress wall, with canon carelessly lying around, and a distant view of the archipelago.

For the first couple of days, it seemed like Finnish food is like Canadian food, as in nothing is local. Eventually we did find interesting local eateries, and I added a new meat in my list, reindeer.

Olympic stadium and the tower was another popular attraction, however the stadium was all dug up. The infamous nude statue of Paavo Nurmi was right there, as advertised.

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia was only a couple of hours away, and I was not about pass this opportunity to visit a new country. The charming old city part maintains its distinctly medieval character, surrounded by crumbling walls and empty watch towers.The cobblestone streets and towering church towers made it a joy to walk around.

We had our lunch at this restaurant called Olde Hansa, which is old, and the the whole decor makes it look even older. The food was good, albeit a bit costly.

And then it was time to head back, by this huge ship! I have never been on a ship which resembled a hotel, a mall and a resort at the same time!

More Pictures here.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A hate letter

I liked playing chess as a kid. I played with other kids, and with a program with ran on MS-DOS. I would not claim that I was very good at it, but it was fun nevertheless. Then I learned that chess can be learned. I bought books, memorized different types of openings and strategies. I spent hours playing with myself. I won more. But every loss hurt more too. And somewhere down the line, the charm went away.

My feeling is, the same thing is happening with photography. I never wanted to be a photographer. I do not claim myself to be creative. I just liked taking pictures, playing around with each frame. Sometimes they came out nice, sometimes not - but there were never any expectations. With effectively unlimited memory cards and a backup battery, there is no limit to the number of photos you can take. Law of average dictates that out of a hundred or thousand tries, some would come out good. Digital camera and online photo sharing meant friends and strangers started seeing those, whether they wanted it or not. Some liked some pictures. Hell, one even won an "honorable" mention at the university organized photo contest. Of course I was happy and proud. I did not even enter the contest next year, or the years after, only because I could never remember the deadlines. Another landed up in CNN iReport. Taking a photo for me was never about entering a contest or gathering praise. although if they came as a byproduct I was too glad to bask in the glory.

Somewhere down the line, people started asking questions. Why I am not switching to a digital SLR. Why I do not use photoshop (it is another matter that most use illegal pirated version, which they should not be using at all) or post-process the images. Have I thought about reading about photographic techniques, or planning to enroll in courses. I held out. No digital SLR for me, because I am broke. I have no time to edit pictures and no inclination to readup technical details. And when I looked around, I saw people using fancy cameras and pirated softwares posting dull pictures, and garnering praise. The praise did not bother me so much, as did the general attitude that a costly camera must imply awesome pictures. In this era of artificial human interactions, what else one can expect!

When you do something spontaneously, it is mostly fun. When the same things starts becoming too technical, and you feel the pressure of expectations, the fun starts dissipating. I get asked often if I am not "tired" of studying. People identify studying as something they were forced to do as a kid, not as something you do because you want to know how nature works, or how you can positively affect human lives. Nothing forced is fun. Competitive activities can be fun, but mostly because you enjoy the competition and derive a pleasure out of vanquishing opponents.

Anyway, I finally gave in. I should be migrating from my high-zoom point and shoot to a micro 4/3rd interchangeable lens camera soon. I am hoping it is worth the money, and worth the hassle of learning a new technology. Otherwise, another hobby would become a victim of peer pressure.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

More politics, very regional

Dipthought's final thought on the recent municipal elections: in the world we grew up, none ever waved an opposition flag in the vicinity of Alimuddin street. That just did not happen.

The most striking image from last Wednesday? Precisely that!

From Calcutta Telegraph, 3rd June.