Culture of decadence

It was in the book "Reading Lolita in Tehran" that I came across the word "decadence" one too many times. This is something that's been working in my mind for quite some time and I'm writing in order to crystallize it for myself.

I'm one of those 90s kids when Middle class meant living in an outhouse in a good neighborhood. I'm of the Tam-brahm breed and my natural habitat was West Mambalam in Chennai. For those of you who can't make sense of these lingo and places, Tam-brahm is Tamil Brahmin, one of the very popular class of people in memes and trolls in India, the south especially. So Brahmins had this practice of living in an exclusive ghetto(socially it is the contrary) called 'agraharam'. It is still a very popular idea that Real estate magnates are actually launching such projects for Retirement living in a country where the right against discrimination is enshrined in the constitution. Coming back, Mylapore and West Mambalam are the neighborhoods of Chennai which more or less stay true to the agraharam concept. Coming back once again, living in the 90s also meant frugality, seriousness, striving to progress and a very modest expectation of it. It was an age where there was little money but immense sense of value. The dollar-rupee exchange rate was somewhere between 20 and 30. Back then, Uncle chips was the only form of packeted snack sold commercially. Most people would snack on the rice noodles(thenkuzhal) or the karasev made at home or bought at the local grocers. Family outing meant going to the park and having Kwality Walls Chocobar or cotton candy. The Masala Papads at the Home Life exhibitions were a popular hit too. At ten rupees, you would get a papad 4 times the size of your hands, beads of oil glistening on the surface with a sprinkling of masala. That would be the day's dinner and you would ride home happily in a bus, loving the gentle wind on your face and watching the city prepare for its brief slumber. Respect and regard counted a lot. Frivolity was unknown. Children played innocent games with stones and sticks and marble. Life was delightfully slow paced. A respectable career meant working with the Government or the Banks.

My first acquaintance with words such as "cool", "sucker", "fuck" and local lingos such as "mokka" and "kalai" was sometime in early 2000. It was the same time when we got the inimitable Nokia 1100 and the SMS culture took birth. SMS language and the many many Good Morning and Good Night messages were as much a wonder to people as the electric bulb would have been to Match-stick men. It was also the same time when people started to indulge in frivolity and make a mockery of anything and everything with scant regard to sensibilities or sensitivities. It was when "intellectual" was ostracised and deemed unfit for communion. Slapstick comedy always in derogation of a person or a people took the place of wit and humor. This culture of "kalai" is the real malaise. It's like the lantana of the forests which thrives while wiping out all other flora. The same way, "kalai" has made it impossible for any talk or discussion or conversation to take flight at all. It's cut as soon as it sprouts. Another clarification in order here. For the non-Tamil readers, "mokka" is synonymous with dry and boring and, "kalai" can be said to mean mockery. Yes, it's actually so common and flagrant to be an every-encounter affair. In tune with this social transformation, the public culture and art space has also changed to cater to mediocrity and shun excellence as not saleable. The Music scene particularly is very painful. (Disclaimer : The author restricts herself to Tamil cinema here). Songs are such that the not-trained hit the charts and the prolific and proficient have no presence. Unpolished dialogues become the lyrics and yelling at the top of your voice becomes the melody. Maybe this trend can be observed in other cultural domains too, I'm yet to verify. Good literature is becoming rare, that is a reflection of our decadent lives too, maybe there's not so much good material to talk about. Maxim Gorky could pen such terrific sentences when the world was raging in Communism and struggles of the proletariat was real, imminent and relatable. Today when Facebook becomes the popular voice and its populace comes from key tapping service professionals, there's no real struggle to talk about but for memes and caricatures such as the one here. There's some revival on the Movie front. Amitav Ghosh in his book "The Great Derangement" draws a stunning analogy between the changing world and the changing landscape of Art and Literature. More about that in another post.

The point being that mediocrity is fed from all directions. My dad once told me I was missing out many good articles by not being on WhatsApp. I asked him what they were and he talks about what he had read that day- The ill-effects of social media. How ridiculous is that? Absurdity is reaching unfathomable levels. Probably this is how the human race will die- of the mind first!


My home Chennai

After writing about Bombay, I feel compelled to write about my home city Chennai. Home is to do with the heart. You can’t objectively analyse and critically look back on your home. But still, I’m attempting this exercise in honor of what Chennai is and will continue to be for millions of simpletons like me.

While Bombay overpowers you with life, Chennai is a laid back city that just lets you be without having to establish your existence. Chennai is idyllic, reflective and tranquil. There is this incredible sense of liberation. It’s a place where you aren’t judged on your material wealth or display. Here, greatness is in the mind and not in the money you throw around. The rains are characteristic of Bombay, historic structures characterize Delhi. The ocean characterizes Chennai. It’s like the waters of the ocean which is witness to many a tremor but looks calm on the surface. Calm waters run deep, it can’t be truer. Chennai is an unassuming city with no big claim to anything. Our minds are so elevated that we can do without all the useless accessories and ornaments. There is a place for everyone. It’s an incredible macrocosm of so many microcosms, one not competing with the other and sometimes even blissfully unaware of the other.

The pride of Chennai is the preservation of culture. Culture not just in the form of dance and music but the culture of a people and their living. The neighborhoods largely retain the inhabitants from a century. Chennai symbolizes the popular philosophy of Live and Let Live. An orthodox Brahmin women in the typically style of draping a nine yards can easily co-mingle with college students in jeans and tees. Of course, Chennai is not Bombay or Delhi where you can see a good number of girls in skimpy clothes. In spite of being a place which doesn’t know of winters, women are almost fully clad. Classical music is still very popular and the December Music season makes or breaks career in the Arts. People go in such huge numbers that it creates an entire ecosystem of itself complete with itineraries, guide books and travel packages.

Chennai is a metropolitan city, in fact it’s the first city colonised by the British. But it carries the new and modern along with the old and time-tested with not so much of a conflict. We have the Metro but people prefer the Pallavan buses that are the source of quaint charm.

Chennai doesn’t rush to make money but has this enviable gait of leisure and contemplation. That’s what I love, that’s what everybody loves when they walk the sleepy avenues of Adyar or Ashok Nagar on a hot sunny afternoon. Every afternoon is hot and sunny for that matter. It’s truly Home, anyone can feel at Home simply because it is plain essential. It is like the simple dal chawal mom makes at home, unassuming yet most inviting and natural to one’s self. It lacks the flamboyance and precisely for that reason it welcomes you to curl up and snuggle in all your ugly but human elements.


Post-partum Depression: My experience

Post-partum depression – I had never heard of it until I came across the term in the book What To Expect. I read the accounts of some women in online fora. It sounded very alien because being an optimist, I had never really known what depression felt like. And bang comes this when my boy was born. My first disappointment was that he had no semblance of me. Next, there were lactation issues. My milk wasn’t coming in and I can’t explain why but I was against giving formula. So I held out against the nursing staff. The doctor told me it was going to get better in a couple of days but my son lost 770 grams in one week which was a lot. He would cry  round the clock. Everyone around me said that I was not feeding him well and he was wailing in hunger. But I refused to buy the argument while deep down .I knew there was some truth in it. When I could no longer ignore the symptoms I started him on formula, very very reluctantly. No one understood what I went through in that first week.

I was the mother, I had borne him amidst many trying circumstances, I had chosen to keep him, I had invested so much love and care already but here he was refusing to suckle, letting me down in front of everyone. That’s what I felt. I felt let down. I felt it was unfair that while I was a mother who would do anything for the child’s welfare like every mother, I was incapacitated from performing the prime duty of my existence. I hoped I would be blessed soon, that I just had to persevere and not give up. 

In two weeks time, my supply kicked in and things got visibly better. But he was still only 2 weeks old and getting shut at home constantly feeding or cleaning up potty was nerve-wracking. Until the last day of delivery, I would be out with my husband till 12 or 1 in the night. But here I was locked in a room feeling miserable and horrid all day. None of my clothes fit me, so .I make did with my husband’s shirts and some skirts. I was looking so shabby and unkempt. There was often no time to bathe or do my hair. My hair was unkempt for days on end while just two weeks previously I was this woman who cannot sleep without scribbling my legs clean and moisturizing them. Being locked up in a room in make shift clothes that would enable me to feed at a moments notice, with a wailing baby who refused to be pacified and flummoxed me with his obstinacy was Depression for me. The only bit of reading I did was the updates on the mothering forum. Forcibly kept away from my books and newspaper was Depression. Not going out is Depression. Not having a good night’s sleep is Depression. Not watching a movie is Depression. Not doing any of the things like and doing everything I abhor is Depression. Adding to this was the highly annoying unsolicited advice from all corners. I felt better about the whole thing only when my cousin told me of her own similar experience. The Motherlove pills she sent me from the US is simply the best thing that happened to me!

Living with my husband was thousand times better than with my mom. She worked so hard for me but she didn’t understand. She was taken aback when I said I was depressed. She vehemently rejected any such possibility saying that one can’t be anything but happy on the arrival of a child. But my husband understood and being what he is, he made every effort to make me smile and laugh. We tried to do “fun” things when the baby was sleeping in his cradle and now I loved my initiation into motherhood.

Post Partum Depression could very well be a new age syndrome since it’s only in the last 20-30 years that women have a life of their own beyond the confines of home. We travel, we read, we write, we go to the movies, go out with friends and do a whole lot of other things that complete our existence. We feel empty and imprisoned if not given the time and space to open our wings. Being cooped up is not for us. But that doesn’t mean one has to take the other extreme of no marriage, no motherhood and no home making. Either ways feels incomplete. There is a reason why our anatomy and biology is in one particular way. We should appreciate that while also taking care of the soul of our being.

Why should you have children

I am an educated, employed, independent woman not caught up much with social mores and compulsions but I married pretty early by today’s standards. I married earlier than I wanted to because my parents were itching and whether I like it or not, daughters are a liability. It’s like owning someone else’s property and being shit scared everyday lest any damage come to it. I may not agree with it or see any logic in the thinking but I care to let a burden off my father’s shoulder. And anyway there was this person I wanted to live with and so it happened on a bright sunny morning in a beautiful old temple built of stone which shone well on my wedding album.

We were two people deeply in love with one another, or at least that’s what we thought. Before marriage we would eagerly and hungrily wait for that one hour and travel a long distance only to meet and smile and our day would be made. We had elaborate discussions on how we would live delving into every small detail. Every possibly issue was ironed out, it appeared. But a week into marriage, after all the initial excitement, we were tearing at each other’s hair and calling names. Now we loved ourselves and our ego so much more than the person in front. Quarrel would spring from nowhere and not one day would go peaceably. A lot of it was just compatibility issues. The irritants of living with a messy guy for me and the suffocation of living with a prissy-missy for my husband. In between all this we would still go to beaches, movies, dinners, lunches and ice creams. We were lucky to be able to go on with this everyday paradox. Cuddle and kiss one moment and yell and scream the other.

Sometimes when things would soar up for days on end, we badly wanted a break. I went to visit friends and family, my husband was only too glad I did. If there was one reckless volley of words, we resolved to stay away and not come back, at least for some time. Every time we quarreled we tried to escape the situation, to prevent future possibilities by dismissing each other from our lives. But that’s stupid. Our rational mind knew it but that supreme ego would not accept, it just won’t bow down, even for love. In fact, we had forgotten how we loved each other, how much we wanted to live together. There was no “living” happening. It was plain bitter existence.

Then came our lovely boy. Now our day revolved almost entirely around him. If we spoke, it was about him, most of the times. He designed our day, anew every morning. We didn’t have the time or space to fight, so we gradually stopped fighting. So much that we don’t even argue with a loud voice anymore. At the maximum, it’s only a civil expression of displeasure. I grew more accommodative of chaos and my darling husband developed sensitivity to 50 of the 100 things that annoy me. Just in case we have a bad day and I wish we could stay away, I dismiss the thought even before it can take shape because I know I have to be home for my son. Two self indulgent adults are now entrusted with a critical project of Nourish-and-Nurture. It’s not about I anymore but We and Ours.

Marriage and Motherhood have made me a much better person. I    can now claim acquaintance with patience and tolerance. We laugh for no reason because our son enjoys it so much that he would laugh along making peculiar sounds of gurgles and giggles. Life is more difficult with a baby but it is immensely more joyful too. I didn’t plan my first child and I’m glad I did not. Otherwise I might not be enjoying this surprise discovery so much. How much time is enough time? Be it to make money, or build a career, or travel the world? The roller coaster is on no matter what choice you make but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s light and nice to just be and not think.