Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reader's Digest

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Reader's Digest Association Inc, whose namesake magazine has been a staple of dentists' offices for generations, said on Monday (August 11) it planned to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for its U.S. businesses as part of a prearranged plan with lenders to cut debt by 75 percent.

Read the full article here

I first read about this in the local newspaper, and it made me sad. The magazine will still continue to be published, but bankruptcy is still bankruptcy.

Reader’s Digest was a part of growing up, it was something that was always there, it was familiar and comfortable. My father, who is a big fan, subscribed to the magazine for a very long time. If you do some digging in our house you might still find some editions from the 80s and 90s. I can proudly say Reader’s Digest was one of the factors that fuelled my love for reading. I loved reading the short articles, the jokes, the book sections, I even ordered a few of their booklets, you know, where you had to give names and addresses of fourteen of your friends and in return they would send you a booklet. I entered in the Sweepstakes (never won anything though), ordered free books along with new subscriptions, and submitted my entries for Life’s Like That (though I never got published).

The arrival of a new issue was always an exciting event, and for the first few days it would get passed around a lot until everyone read it. I’d first read the jokes. Life’s Like That, All in a Day’s Work, Laughter, the Best Medicine, and the jokes you found at the bottom of the pages, kind of to fill up the space. Then I would read the short articles, where somebody would tell how they met their wives/husbands fifty years ago, about some incident in the night, about some event that changed their lives. One writer I particularly remember was Penny Porter, who lived in a farm with lots of animals. I loved her articles about her family, her children, their pets and the stray animals that wandered into their lives.

Then I would read Drama in Real Life. Being attacked by a grizzly while hiking in the woods, being trapped in a mine, a plane crash, attacked by a mad man etc etc. I would save the Book Section for the last; they were relatively lengthy and needed more time. The articles that bored me to tears were the health articles. Human nature, I guess, to stay away from something that is good for us and lean towards the bad. One of the reasons we stopped subscribing was the magazine was turning into a health magazine. It became boring. Plus a thousand other magazines came up, television came into our lives, and we discovered other books and other interests.

I still love reading old issues. I still buy old copies, old editions from the 60s, 70s and 80s. They were much more authentic, much truer and the people were not so fake. And I still buy the old condensed books.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Conundrum

I buy clothes that I don’t wear
I buy books that I don’t read
I buy food that I don’t eat
I download movies that I don’t watch
I buy shoes that I don’t wear
I have friends who I don’t keep in touch with
I buy makeup that I don’t use
I buy lenses that I don’t wear
I borrow books that I don’t read
Am I a hoarder?
A procrastinator?
Or just plain lazy?

Friday, August 14, 2009

The advantages of being not-so-beautiful (or How to console yourself every time you look in the mirror)

Before anything else, let’s establish the fact that I am not beautiful. Or pretty. Or striking. The closest I came was cute, which as we all know is Lord-help-me-you-are-ugly-but-I-don’t-want-to-hurt–your-feelings. I have never scored big in the looks department. When I was a young girl a neighbour commented that unlike my siblings I was “beautiful in a different way”. The fact that she was a husband beating loudmouth didn’t make it any better; I was still differently beautiful. And my siblings aren’t too beautiful/handsome either. My sister and I still laugh over my high school photos, especially the one I took in the NCC uniform. And people keep telling me I look older than I actually am (horrors!), and once when I was twenty-four years old a guy I knew said I looked twenty-six. But there is a silver lining - a few weeks ago a guy friend said I looked younger than I actually am (I asked him how old do I look and he said twenty six. Does that mean I will be stuck at that age forever? I wouldn’t mind it much.)

Ok enough about my looks, let’s talk about yours. How many of you are truly satisfied with the way you look? None of you, I bet. How many of you look at celebrity photos wishing you could look like them? I’d put my money on “All of you”.

Actually, I don’t want to talk about your looks either. Do whatever you like with it, keep it as it is, reinvent it, smear layers of makeup on your face, wear a mask, I don’t care. Let’s get to the point, shall we? A few reasons why we should be glad we were not born beautiful:

1. People are not intimidated by your looks, making you approachable and likeable.

2. When someone of the opposite sex likes you, you know it’s not because of your stunning beauty but because of something good in you (hooray, you have some good likeable quality).

3. There is more room for improvement. Makeovers, plastic surgery, botox, the possibilities are endless.

4. It’s a lesson in patience. How? Remember all those minutes and hours you spend applying makeup but it never quite came out as it did on the faces of the models in the magazines and you then remove it all and re-apply? If that isn’t patience, then what is?

5. It’s a great learning experience. How? You cannot win favours because of your "exceptional beauty", so you have to work harder to get what you want, which in the end always works out good for you and you learn something in the process.

6. No matter how dumb you are, you will never be called “beauty without brains”, which I feel is more of an insult than being called plain stupid.

7. Continuing with the above point, people don’t automatically categorise you as “dumb” because you are good looking. Something is expected out of you, something good, which again is a learning experience.

8. In case you decide to become a psychopath or serial killer you can always have the excuse that you felt like an outcast because of your unusually bad looks and that the seed of insecurity and inferiority was sowed in you as a result of all the taunts and mocking from your peers the fruit of which was your hatred for people in general and good looking people in particular, thus the killings.

9. You have more things to do to kill time. Squeezing pimples, scrubbing, removing unwanted hair, removing warts, fighting an ingrown toenail, looking up different techniques in skin care, fighting halitosis, etc etc. Boredom becomes an alien concept.

10. You are rendering a great service to humanity just by being ugly. If there were no ugly people, the beautiful people would not be beautiful at all; they would just be normal boring people. So always keep in mind that it’s because of people like you and me that the beautiful people are, well, beautiful. It’s all relative, my friend.

So, what next? Walk up to your parents and/or any living ancestor you can find and thank them for their imperfect genes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Revelations & Resolutions

The uninspiredness is still out in full force. I have a thousand things in mind but couldn't type a meaningful sentence out of it. So here is an article I wrote for the Hyderabad Mizo Association's magazine Virthlileng, which was released last year.

I don’t know if it is possible to be underdressed for a plane ride, or if airlines have a small hidden clause that said “The price of every piece of clothing worn by the passenger must be greater than or equal to the price of the ticket”, but underdressed is exactly how I felt when I boarded the Aizawl bound Air Deccan flight at Kolkatta last Christmas. As soon as I entered the terminal I was bombarded with the sight of some young Mizo people and some not-so-young-but-unwilling-to-admit-so specimens; all of them beautifully coiffed, clothed and shod. Not to mention the fake designer bags. And the obviously expensive latest model cell phones. I reached inside my tattered jute bag and switched off my ancient Motorola, afraid it might suddenly ring and I would have to take it out and answer it. I’d rather walk on coals, hot burning coals. Looking at those co-passengers-to-be I felt dowdy, frumpy, outdated and extremely unfashionable, not unlike how a village bumpkin might feel when accidentally stumbling in at a Fashion Week in a big city, mistaking the venue for some farmers’ convention. I made a mental note to upgrade myself a bit in the fashion department. Hike myself up a few rungs and generally up my style quotient a few notches.

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I saw one of my friends from Hyderabad, when upon seeing her I must have exhaled rather loudly that made her ask if I’d been running. She was just underdressed as I was, in her old brown cardigan, jeans and old sneakers. I wasn’t exactly the epitome of fashion either, in my old kolhapuris and my local made kurta. We gratefully sat down together, gawking and gaping and elbowing each other every other minute to point out one girl’s jacket, another’s shoes, a boy’s hairstyle, and so on. A few minutes later our plane took off.

When I thought she wasn’t looking I stole a glance at a rather thin but otherwise pretty girl. She was fashionably dressed in knee length boots, skinny jeans tucked right in, an expensive looking coat and an equally expensive looking bag. And sunglasses. Yes you heard me right, at ten thousand feet above the ground, inside a closed airplane, in the middle of December. I looked around to see if anyone else was wearing one, but sadly all eyes were dangerously exposed to the harmful ultra violet rays. Considering how high we were flying, literally, how much closer we were to the sun than when we were on the ground, I thought if she wasn’t the only sensible one among all of us passengers and crew. I mean, you don’t know if the UV rays are not lurking outside airplanes, looking for every opportunity to somehow wriggle themselves through the windows and strike you blind. I made another mental note to buy myself a decent pair of sunglasses, never mind that I wear spectacles and would be half blind wearing sunglasses; I must think of those deadly rays.

The rest of the trip was uneventful.

After resting at home for a couple of days, I went shopping. Christmas, after all, means squeezing yourself between thousands of armpits so you can buy the perfect pair of shoes, the most beautiful jacket, and the Christmas decorations to show off on D-day. And also let your neighbours know, oh ever so subtly, that you don’t mind if everything is overpriced, you can afford it. And because you have to wear what everyone else is wearing (you don’t want to look odd, do you?) Forget about originality, following the crowd is in. It really doesn’t matter if I and my girlfriends and the whole city are all dressed alike, it’s the fashion of the season and nobody wants to be the crow among all the peacocks.

One day I went to buy shoes, and I saw the most beautiful pair. But there was one small hitch- It was extremely expensive, way way beyond my budget. I tried bargaining but was quickly shot down by the merchant, a middle aged woman who informed me in no uncertain terms that if I wasn’t willing to dish out the price she asked for then maybe we shouldn’t do business. After all, there were thousands who were perfectly ready to buy those shoes regardless of the cost. She also narrated how her merchandise was brought from Bangkok, emphasizing on the high cost of travel, hinting that maybe I was out of my league there hobnobbing with her. I was flabbergasted; whatever happened to good old customer service? Customer is king? It seemed like the customer had been dethroned and demoted to serf. I did a quick mental calculation and concluded that with the same amount of money I could buy two or three decent not-so-expensive pairs. And that’s exactly what I did.

I made many shopping expeditions before and after Christmas, and I saw a lot of “celebrities”. That is, my companions pointed them out to me. Being the old fashioned unaware ignoramus that I was I didn’t recognize any of them unless told. The place was packed with Idols and Icons and Super Models and Pop Kings and Queens and Rappers and Rock Stars and People Who Got Caught On Video In Compromising Situations. Every locality has its own celebrity, and everyone is related to or knows at least one personally. It’s almost a crime not to know any celebrity, and I of course was as guilty as Cain. I couldn’t be assumed innocent because frankly I wasn’t. I didn’t have friends who were friends of celebrities which meant I couldn’t shamelessly drop names. I didn’t even have relatives who have friends who were friends of celebrities, that’s how out of touch I was. I made yet another mental note to know more celebrities.

And even though the streets were teeming with said celebrities, nobody paid them any attention. No screaming fans followed them, nobody asked them for autographs and took pictures with them, and they didn’t have to surround themselves with beefy bodyguards or disguise themselves to venture out in public. They didn’t have to get the law to issue restraining orders to stalkers and crazy fans. They just wore their expensive shoes and strolled along with the multitude without anyone paying them any particular attention. It must be rather disappointing, to be a celebrity and nobody noticing you.

The Christmas celebration itself was another circus. On Christmas day we all dressed alike and went to church, and after the service gorged on Christmas Tea and Cake. There were a lot of handshakes, hellos, how are yous, and Merry Christmases. Then we all went home where we did nothing the rest of the day except hang about the house watching TV. The day after Christmas, or Boxing Day, was the day of the traditional community feast. I don’t know what other people did, but I was sick and was in bed the whole day. My friends came to my house in the evening and dragged me to the feast where I witnessed another fashion show. I almost got a crick on my neck from turning and twisting my head every two seconds to see who is wearing what and who is coming with whom. The Christmas spirit of cheer and goodwill never entered our minds.

And so Christmas was over.

The New Year celebration was pretty much the same. The same food, the same crowd, the same circus. A couple of overenthusiastic men donated some money so the feasting could go on another day. I didn’t know where their money came from, but I guessed it sure wasn’t from their salary paid by the government. I simply assumed they must have some goldmine somewhere. Many people were quite skeptical about the unnecessary feasting when our brothers in the villages were starving because of the imminent Mautam. And many localities instead of feasting gave the money to those villages, which was indeed a noble and generous act. I wondered how to get a goldmine, and figured a job in the Mizoram government could be the first step to get one. Isn’t it a known fact that our officers and ministers often “reward” themselves for the excellent work they do in serving the people? Never mind that they reward themselves in private without anyone’s knowledge, which I guess is because they all are modest, humble souls who don’t want all the drama associated with public felicitations. Here is a lesson to be learnt in modesty and humility, I reminded myself yet again.

The holiday season over, it was time for me to head back to Hyderabad and to the humdrum of everyday life. As our plane took off from Lengpui Airport I looked out of my window and my breath caught in my throat. The view was simply amazing. Miles and miles of greenery, with a few patches here and there cleared for farming. The towns were just a cluster of houses in a sea of green, like a tiny star in the dark night sky, and the winding rivers looked like curvy silver threads. A line from a song popped into my head - “Take me down to the paradise city where the grass is green and the girls are pretty.” The grass sure was green down there, and the girls extremely pretty. The boys too. But paradise city? I wished I could answer in the affirmative, but I just wasn’t so sure.

I leaned back on my seat, drifted in to my thoughts and contemplated all the things I experienced on my short holiday. My eyes were opened to many things, and as new years go I felt I had to make some resolutions, which were:

• Subscribe to some fashion magazines.
• Watch more Fashion TV
• Visit the nearest optical showroom
• Learn the different manifestations/facets/aspects of customer service
• Know more celebrities
• Make new friends who know some celebrities
• Get a job in the Mizoram government
• Learn to be modest and humble

But now half of the year is already gone and I haven’t achieved anything. As resolutions go, I’m afraid as the year progressed I may end up not keeping them.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Lazy Sunday

Since I am completely and utterly inspired and my mind is a blank canvas and as a blogger I feel obligated to update once in a while (it’s been ten days since my last post, I know there are a zillion bloggers out there who go for months without updating but I'm not one of them, and seeing the same old post day in and day out can get slightly irritating at times) today’s topic is one about which I've written before and will yet write again in the future. Yes, you guessed it – books.

This morning I started reading Eric Van Lustbader’s Beneath An Opal Moon, I don’t know if I will have the strength and the patience to finish it, it’s too unreal. That’s the problem with fantasy books, everything is so imaginary and unreal (no wonder they are called fantasy), and it’s a tad difficult to keep up with the names and places. When I read Lord of the Rings I kept turning back the pages to find out who was who and from where, and of course the fact that it was an unusually thick book and it took me a year to finish it could also be another reason. I started reading The Hobbit some time last year, it’s a very thin book, roughly 300 pages, and yet I still am stuck somewhere in the first 100 pages.

A couple of weeks ago I borrowed three romance novels, yes, good old M&B’s. When I was a teenager my cousin used to have a huge collection and I think I read every one of them, it was interesting then. The ruggedly handsome hero who would invariably be a rich and successful businessman, who was arrogant and rude but caring and tender when you get to know him, and the heroine who would be as fragile as porcelain and of course always an innocent virgin, well, that was fifteen years ago. Growing up sure opened your eyes and your mind. Rich successful businessmen don’t spend their time trying to lure virgins into their beds; there are too many willing women out there. And virginity, hah! The word might as well be obsolete, what with the virgin population going down every year.

I didn’t finish any of the three M&B’s I borrowed, I found them absolutely boring and predictable, the hero was still brooding and commanding and rude and the heroine who was a successful actress/career woman found herself all flustered and disturbed every time they were together, and I stopped reading.

Next stop is a book by R.K. Narayan, The Indian Epics Retold. Ramayana and Mahabharata and some other Hindu folklore. It’s going to be an interesting read, Drona, Arjuna, Duryodhana, the five brothers, etc etc. And of course it is written by R.K. Narayan, one of the greatest Indian authors ever. I loved his Malgudi stories, stories of ordinary people in an ordinary town, but brought out so colourfully and so riveting and very very well written. He doesn’t use big show-offy words, the narration is simple and straight, but there is always an interesting plot. I think that about sums up life, it’s not about showing off how much you know or how much you have, it’s all about being simple and straightforward and letting others discover the wonderful person that is you.