In 2006, when I was in Goa, a small stall refused to sell me chocolate at 8 pm, since it was closing time. The other day, as I was walking back at 8 pm in Trivandrum, I noticed the longest lines were outside the euphemistically named Kerala Beverages Corporation shops. One such two-storeyed shop had lines running down its narrow flight of stairs and spilling over to the roads. These lines make the Big Bazaar billing queues seem inconsequential, for I’m often in line with a single bottle of water behind shoppers who have carts groaning under the weight of merchandise. And they always come in tow with enthusiastic kids who keep throwing extra cake and chips into the cart. That the cunning Big Bazaar works in connivance with these kids is an open secret – that is why they stow piles of junk food by the billing counters – if you’ve resisted the urge inside, throw caution and diets to the wind while waiting in a long line – as if the bulge of your belly compensates for the hole in your pocket.
‘Asking for it’ seems to be the latest feminist catchphrase. I must admit I like it. So these four colleges in Kanpur have banned jeans for girls on campus - jeans and short-sleeved t-shirts apparently mean you were ‘asking for it’. By that yardstick, Malayali men should look away whenever I walk the roads here, because I have often been irked by their extremely glad eye and have taken pains to blend in and look like I was not ‘asking for it’. But that doesn’t work, apparently. Staring is an activity programmed into them when they are in their mothers’ wombs, it seems. Like countless men elsewhere, they’ve been told they have the right to appraise our assets with impunity. And they know we’re supposed to look away or look down in shame. Because we ‘asked for it’. The air is thick with asking and I don’t know who’s going to do the telling. I, for one, am tired of pretending I am a nice Malayali girl out of her thatched tharavad, with freshly washed long hair trailing down her back, a tiny blotch of kungumam brightening her forehead, the dupatta demurely covering all that ‘asks’. So I have gone back to wearing mismatched clothes without a dupatta. Of late, one activity that I derive a lot of sadistic amusement from, is staring back at the gits who try staring at me. Some people suddenly find the road very fascinating; one could bore holes into it with the intensity of it – the municipal corporation will be made redundant then. Some continue staring as if they’ve been frozen into position, but I’m beginning to think that’s less audacity and more because they’re awestruck by a woman who stares back at them and evaluates their pendulous assets.
Dance is now big business. I’ve been watching clips of young Bharatanatyam dancers on the internet. They’re excellent for their age, but I wonder how the ensuing media blitz affects them. At the age of 14 or 15, they have two or three DVDs to their credit. And what really elicits a raised eyebrow is the crass commercialism their teachers market them with. Maybe these sentences sound the way they do because I have no crystallised views on this issue yet. One website that stands out asks the viewer to register on the site in order to stream longer video clips. The registration form asks you what you have done for the dancers – have you showered money on them, organised programmes, registered them at competitions? How much are you willing to spend to watch these videos? More ludicrously, the website has excerpts from DVDs where a space for ads throughout the video appears on one side. To make things clear, it elaborates, “Your ad could be here.” In an age, where even advertisement breaks are over-run by ads bordering other ads, ads in dance videos might only be fair, but I wish the people behind the DVD would find more creative and aesthetic methods of incorporating ads. You have the dancer flanking the ad right now, in this spirit of auctioneering, it makes one wonder – whom did we buy – the dancer or the advertisement?