Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Queen Victoria and the Three Chauvinist Bears

One wouldn't exactly say that it was with great, big, welling tears in his voluminous, Donkey eyes that your favourite barn-yard correspondent wandered up the gangway of Indira Ghandi International Airport for the last time on Saturday Night. I had just suffered a week of being metaphorically turkey-slapped by every high-ranking official from the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as I tried to organise my exit papers, and this was followed by a walk through the furnace-like heat, with it's dust-laden twenty feet of visibility, amongst the most uncaring, and unforgiving traffic in the world, and by the time my last hours of Delhi daylight had faded into the hazy smog, I was pretty-well at the end of my tolerance for my home of the last eighteen months.

The traffic on the way to the airport (from the inside of a car, this time), was equally harrowing thanks to the city's questionable attempts to showcase its even more questionable modern infrastructure to the international Commonwealth Games-viewing public (at the expense of acres and acres of itinerant housing settlements – leaving millions homeless each day), and my mood didn't improve all that dramatically when faced with a $180 excess baggage bill and a final kick-in-the-ass in the form of a forty minute wait in the immigration queue. And, to add insult to injury, I'd have to say, that last forty minutes wasn't sweetened by the huge hoardings on all the walls, floor and ceiling suggesting that "together, Delhi will show the world in 2010". "Lotta work to do!", that's all I can say. So, no, it wasn't as a blubbering mess that Donkey squeezed his oversized butt into an airline seat last Saturday night – far from it.

Sad to admit that my last little stretch in Delhi wasn't the most enjoyable couple of months of my life, but while I'm a bit down on the place now, I guess the bad will fade from my memory in time, and the good (of which there is plenty) will soon boil over to bore the pants off all whom I meet, "Yes, we lived in New Delhi – it was wonderful! Best years of our lives..." Not sure how long this cycle will take to complete, but I wouldn't be surprised if, come the 2010 Commonwealth Games, I will have become completely sucked-in by the Indian Government's propaganda, and I'll be the biggest Indiaphile in the Commonwealth.

Which brings me to my point for this post – why do countries like India, or just about any other country in the Commonwealth, want to remain a member of that horrible club? Didn't Ghandi, the father of the biggest nation on Earth, wander across the country dressed in nothing but an old Cornwall (ironic!) potato sack, in order to OVERTHROW THE HATED BRITISH!?! It's rhetorical - of course he friggin' did! So after 150 years of extreme repression, followed shortly afterwards by perhaps one of the bloodiest roads to Independence the world has ever seen, these people decide they not only want to join the club set up by the bastards who have been killing their sons and daughters for generations, they also want to throw a big party for them as they host the Commonwealth Games in 2010!

But not only that, in "beautifying" the city for the big show, they are upholding the fine old traditions on which the entire Commonwealth was founded, and committing the kinds of atrocities upon their own people that the Brits once dealt out to them!

Isn't it funny how things go? It was all this and more which was washing over me as I launched into the big black some one-and-a-half hours behind schedule on Saturday evening. The "and more" had to do with Delhi society (one of the most unsocially-minded I have ever experienced), and in particular, the way they treat each other, especially if one happens to be of the lower classes, lower castes or, lowest of all, a woman!

To help explain the complexities of social India a little better, I call upon the grand old children's story, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You'll remember that little Goldi busts into a house, a completely unwanted guest, and helps herself to the porridge. Now, you will recall from the story that the hot porridge was given to Papa Bear, 'cause the man of the house gets the best of everything. And so it is in lower to middle, to upper class Delhi society – the man gets everything he wants, and that just happens to be the best of everything.

The next hottest meal on the breakfast buffet that morning went to Baby Bear, who happens to be male also, and the first born, and there's no child more spoilt in this world than those rolley-polley Indian sons-and-heirs who love to ram their new remote-controlled cars, their brand-spanking new bicycles, their drivable, motorised toy cars or their new, league-standard soccer balls into the heads, ankles, hips and stomachs of passers-by, while their doting parents beam their admiration from the sidelines. I once even witnessed a wealthy father, with knuckle-white, closed fists, take to the head of a young, grimy beggar boy for getting in the way of his prized heir, even though the now-squealing young porker had deliberately swerved toward the helpless urchin with the intention of running him down. In a matter of seconds, the incessant, piercing ring of the bicycle bell was replaced by the sound of a dozen hungry piglets as the waddling blubber-ball donated a fair quantity of celebrated, first-born skin to the New Delhi pavement – poetic justice perhaps, but the young, innocent street-ling still copped a ferocious hiding.

So Papa Bear got the hot porridge, and Baby Bear got the warm porridge. Interesting that in India, it's always the poor old sod that does all the work who gets shafted, and that's usually a woman. So in the story, it was Mama Bear, after slaving away at the stove for hours, who ended up not being able to eat her porridge until it'd gone cold.

There's only one other in the Indian family structure who cops it worse than Mama Bear. Did you ever hear what Sister Bear's porridge was like? Of course you didn't, 'cause when Mama Bear's real first-born turned out to be female, she ended up taking a swim in a well – just like in India!

So if the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a comment on social structures in India, then who is Goldilocks? Hmmm ... now who could that be, I wonder? Let's see ... she's blond, pale skinned, has blue eyes – probably not Indian, so I guess she's European. She barges in uninvited, and helps herself to the spoils of the labour, gets first dibs on even Papa Bear's porridge, without so much as a second thought, and then retires in the early part of the day for a nap.

I don't know about you, but I'm drawing a pretty clear resemblance between Goldilocks and a once powerful, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-their-mouths, heartless colonial ruler who set its own citizens up as the highest caste in the land, reaped the spoils of all and sundry, and retired early in the day for a nap. So that's it, Goldilocks is Britain, and the Three Bears are the social and familial classes of India. And you thought it was just a good, old fashioned children's tale about a sweet, innocent little girl and some nasty woodland creatures. Not so, it's a cleverly disguised fable with a subliminal message to teach our children that while repression of an entire nation is strictly inappropriate, geneal repression of women within society is both tolerable, and necessary to ensure the ongoing stability of the family name and fortune. Goodness me, it's no wonder the world is going down the tubes!

The only question that remains, of course, is what comparison can be drawn from Goldilocks' rather grizzly demise when the oppressed Indian classes found her napping in their beds? Well India hasn't quite gobbled England and her G8 allies completely up as yet, but if the economists and their forecasts are even half-correct, the Three Bears are well on their way to making the biggest Goldilocks kebab the world has ever seen. No doubt they're timing their supper for well after 2010, however; after all, in typical sycophantic style, there'd be no reason to ruin the great party they're throwing for their Commonwealth friends.


In the ridiculous heat, the streets of Delhi can be a most unforgiving environment – and yes, that guy next to Mrs Donkey is clearing his sinuses. Pic: Hagas

Monday, June 11, 2007

The heart of darkness

DISCALIMER: The following piece is written for yet another assignment cooked-up over at the House of Sternberg. The task this time was to write a piece based on the opening sentence. Then the tricky part – once completed, we were instructed to go through the piece, choose various words and consult a thesaurus for better ones, or at least ones that added to, or improved the writing. At the end of the piece (below), I have indicated what was changed.

Actually, I found this exercise tough, 'cause I usually use a thesaurus as I write. In this exercise, I selected many words to be changed, but at times, after consulting the thesaurus, I opted to maintain my original, chosen word. Other times, there weren't any suggestions to select from, and at others, I realised the word I'd selected was not really the one I needed – this often happens when you use metaphor to describe something, and as such the thesaurus doesn't always pick-up the subtlety. Enough from me – I hope you enjoy it...

I see things in darkness that no one should see by light of day, but then, that is the burden of those of us who are no longer tolerated out there; for those of us who have been sent here by friends and so called "loved-ones", by the judges and those who are said to be our legal guardians, by our religious leaders; our politicians. We are here because these and more have deemed us deserved of our fate, either due to our actions and thoughts in this life, or the wickedness we have led in others past. We are here now for ... I suppose you might say, "the rest of our lives", but from the moment you enter this place, your life as you (or indeed any of those who condemned you) knew it to be, has been terminated.

Here, in this no-place, I must endure endless days; endless, for with no window or opening through which to allow the passage of light, one cannot distinguish dawn from dusk. The hours, days, weeks melt with everything else in the airless, simmering heat, and become one, fluid age to be endured; just as one must endure the fetid stench of the other women, if indeed you could still call them such, for without regular water with which to bathe, and with many of my "companions" no longer able to control their faculties, whether through fear or physical dysfunction, there is little that remains of our dignity, and our humanity is likewise eroded with each corporeal indiscretion.

For some, it is easy to see why they have been sent here. Many are clearly no longer able to even think, let alone care for themselves, and their families and communities, either through a lack of compassion, or in their belief that their mother/daughter/cousin/wife would be well cared for, have sent them here to see out their days. Of course, not one has ever returned to visit, or to enquire whether their relative or friend is safe and comfortable, so whether through sensitivity or spite, to these once-significant others, we may as well be dead. Indeed, perhaps they are not mistaken ... perhaps death is not the absence of life, but rather an altered life; one now filled with unfathomable pain and emptiness.

We are not all soft in thought. I am not here because I cannot care for myself. In fact, were it not for me and one or two others, many of the women here would have perished long ago. Nor am I here for having committed some great wrong. I am here because the world has turned inside out. I am here because those who once taught and preached about virtue and morality had failed to add the qualifying phrase, "unless you are a woman". I am here because I would not accept the beatings, the abuse and the infidelity of a man who, although willing to take a wife to be enslaved, refused to love and provide for her. I am here for no other crime than for believing what I had been taught; for speaking-out, and receiving the wrath of a blinkered, uncaring and unjust society.

And so, to "protect myself and the community from my insanity", my husband's father signed the documents which led to my being locked away, to succumb to disease and hunger and fear.

The fear I speak of is fear of the night. Yes, the night. For there are other ways to distinguish between day and night, than the rising and setting of the sun. By day, we remain locked away, in the heat, amongst the sick and screaming. Locked away, out of sight, and on our own.

But by night, the international agency which runs this hovel (doing their best to "help the poor and destitute in the third world"), pack away their things and return to the town, to their homes and their families. The keys are left to the men. Men who, like us, have been sent away from their homes and communities. Men who, to the unseeing, uncaring world outside are, like us, dead. These men, with nothing left to lose, and no one to answer to, are tasked to clean our prison.

They come amongst us, with their leers, and their fists, and their sticks. Their appetites, borne from the betrayals of their own pasts, and fuelled by their own diminished humanity, are insatiable, and their brutality unspeakable. In this disgusting, putrid, furnace-of-the-un-dead, miles from the ears of a happily ignorant society, day and night is not distinguished by the presence or absence of light, but by the variance in pitch between a scream of fear or pain, by day, and the heart-piercing shriek of fear and pain by night.

Here, in this chamber of anguish and misery, I see and suffer things in darkness that no one should see by light of day. Each morning, a number of us are dragged away, bleeding and lifeless. I pray that I shall soon be one of them.

Thesaurus changes.

Sent to condemned
Has come to an abrupt end to has been terminated.
Period to age
Erodes just as surely to is likewise eroded with each corporeal indiscretion.
Bodily to corporeal
Compassion to sensitivity
Clarifying to qualifying (not thesaurus)
narrow-minded to blinkered
Crescendoing to heart-piercing
Inhumanity to anguish and misery

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Business Trips

Why aren’t business trips for me like business trips for everyone else?

Ever since I’ve been old enough to have a job, I’ve been listening to friends sitting around the table at the pub, and telling me and all about their awesome business trips on which they are collected from the airport in a limo, taken to some swanky restaurant where they are plied with all-expenses paid, five-star cuisine and with all the best top-shelf scotch they can stomach before being whisked out to an up-market strip joint for a wonderful evening’s entertainment (again, furnished with all the plastic panty money they need to keep them happy), and then it’s onto the casino for a late night snort and a hundred bucks worth of chips, before calling it a night in the penthouse jacuzzi of a centrally located, luxury hotel with whom-so-ever the company deems fit.

The explanation then usually goes on to describe days out at the races, the footy, corporate golf, more fine dining and barrel-loads of booze. By the time the end of the trip arrives, the hosting branch of the organization almost has to carry my friends onto the plane, and it’s back to work the next day with a mighty hangover, an itchy, weeping knob and a truck-load of yarns for the tea room.

So I’m thinking about my business trips over the last couple of years, and I’m wondering why it is that I don’t have any wonderful yarns about wins at the races, picking up at the Black Jack table, snogging Keira Knightly at the Harbourside Brasserie or ordering room service and having the waitress jump into the tub with me wearing nothing but a champagne bottle and two glasses. Admittedly, these friends are from the Business and Finance sector (B&F), or the IT sector, or other such industries sporting a Two-Letter-Acronym (TLA), and are not quite in the business of saving the world (STW), but surely I’ve been at this long enough by now to at least have earned just a little respect in the form of away-from-home-comforts, haven’t I?

Well, obviously not! I’m writing this from the very dirty, hot, crowded departure hall of Chennai airport, where I have just been informed of yet another 45 minute delay of my flight, and there’s not a compensatory beer or beer nut in sight. This has come at the end of a pretty gruelling couple of days, and I’ve about reached the limit of what I can handle. But if you’re thinking I’m being a bit precious, and perhaps whinging just a bit too much,* allow me to draw a few comparisons of my current business trip, with that of my corporate friends.

Collected in a limo:
I wasn’t collected at all. I paid for a taxi, then struggled across the busy road with my luggage to find my taxi. I had to kick the driver up the arse in order to get him moving as he was quite happy to continue chatting with his mates. When he did finally get moving … he managed four feet before getting grid-locked in the car park. He then bypassed the exit, and went to collect one of his mates who needed a lift, and so he jumped into my cab as well.

Taken to a swanky hotel:
I didn’t have an identified hotel to stay in, but my suggestion of a place was met with the usual, “That one is full, Sir. I take you to good hotel”. “No!” “Yes sir, it’s a good hotel”. “NO!” ”OK, Sir. As you wish” … and sometime later, me: “What’s this?” ”A very good hotel, Sir” “Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhh!”

I looked out the grubby window at the Mars Wedding Hotel, a one-and-a-half star wonder, complete with an attached wedding hall. Having been through all of this before, I knew that the best thing to do was to get out and have a look at the room, so at least then my chauffer would let-up with the nagging and let me go to another hotel. Actually, after entering the lobby and seeing the chain-smoking entourage leftover from a recent wedding celebration, I was kind of interested to have a good look at the type of room that the still-with-a-lot-of-climbing-to-do social climbers of Indian society will stay in on their wedding night. I was even more intrigued when I found out about the hotel’s special wedding feature, a “tunnel of love” ensuring easy, saree-stripping access from the marriage hall to the bedrooms.

As expected, the room was dirty, with a low, sagging bed and with a strangely musty smell about it (not surprisingly). Not quite what I had in mind.

Put up in a luxury hotel penthouse with a jacuzzi:
By the time I’d answered to the now commission-less taxi driver (for the fourth time) as to why I did not want to stay in his suggested hotel, I was pretty "emotional” about it all. We tried two more hotels with no rooms available, and so I had to make a decision on the next one.

The room wasn’t quite a penthouse … more a pentbox, and the grubby, cold water tap hanging out of the wall with the slimy-bottomed bucket beneath it (which was obviously what the hotel brochure was referring to when it listed "hot shower" as a feature of the room), was an almighty cry from a jacuzzi.

And I'll bet that my corporate friends didn't have someone else's pubic hairs in their sheets BEFORE they even got into bed! Who knows? Maybe they were even lucky enough to have full-length sheets; ones which covered the whole mattress, rather than the three-quarter length ones that I discovered when I threw back the bedcovers that evening. Now that was a brilliantly executed ruse to convince a potential guest that the room was OK if, like me, they demanded to give it the once-over before agreeing to stay – what a sucker!

Put up in a centrally located, luxury hotel penthouse with a jacuzzi:
This marvel of modern, sophisticated accommodation was hardly what you'd call "central", unless your idea of going out on the town was to walk around dusty, congested streets and visiting stores that sold rubber and glue. Chennai's original industrial zone occupies the 15Km buffer zone between town and the airport; the traffic-congested trip takes up to one hour, so my attempt at an evening's sight-seeing around the hotel's surrounding streets was pretty short, before I rushed back to the "jacuzzi" to wash all the dust and grime from my face and neck.

Taken to some swanky restaurant where they are plied with all-expenses paid, five-star cuisine and with all the best top-shelf scotch they can stomach:

Industrial zones aren't known for their tremendous restaurants, and so it was back to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Some proponents of Darwinism believe it's man's ability to choose that distinguishes us from the apes, but when the choice is to be the only diner in a strategically, dimly lit restaurant, or go hungry, as I resigned myself to the murky interior, I felt about as ape-like as I could get without wanting to scratch my armpits and sniff my neighbour's bum (fortunately, there was no one else around, as this could well have been a chargeable offence in Chennai).

Even the most inexperienced of travellers to India learns pretty quickly not to eat at places where no one else is eating, and my flagrant ignoring of the rules was bound to have consequences. Indeed, at 4am the next morning, those consequences made themselves known.

Incidentally, there was no booze, either. Actually, there was nothing to drink except warm mineral water as the guy with the key to the fridge had gone home for the evening ... with the key!

Ordering room service and having the waitress jump in the tub with me wearing nothing but a champagne bottle and two glasses:
All the available bog roll was gone after an hour of the afore mentioned consequences, so I staggered to the phone to call room service for some more. Despite the affirmative response on the other end of the line, I was hopping mad with panic thirty-minutes later, as, still sans paper, I picked up the phone for assistance. Now I don't normally like to get short with anybody, and especially not with low-paid hotel employees, but as the cramps and pressure continued to mount, my reserves of self control were all being directed towards my sphincter, and I really gave the poor guy on the other end of the line an earful (of abuse, that is, not the other).

My distressed mind has blacked-out exactly what I said to the guy, but what ever it was seemed to do the trick. Needless to say, when the knock came at the door only seconds later, there was no naked, sexy waitress ready to jump into the "tub" with me, but rather a scared little man who took one whiff of the room and cut a very hasty retreat.

Snogging Keira Knightly at the Harbourside Brasserie:
Not at the Harbour-side Brasserie, nor even in my dreams, owing to disrupted slumber thanks to soiled, inadequately proportioned bed linen and the afore mentioned nocturnal consequences of an unhygienic chef.

Taken out to an up-market strip joint ... the races, the footy, corporate golf, more fine dining and barrel-loads of booze:

Not quite! Instead, I got to spend three, spine-shattering hours in a stinking-hot jeep in order to have a look at swollen, bloated feet with various (or all) toes missing, putrid, gangrenous stumps from amputated limbs and near starving people trying to manage a living without family, social supports or a house to live in. All this before piling back into the mobile oven for another three hours of fun, all of which was repeated the following day.

OK. OK. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that Donkey's completely lost it this time; that he's way off the mark about those business trips, and that everyone knows that the B&F and IT guys and gals get all those perks because they don't get paid that much. You're thinking that Donkey's probably making a packet for all his hardships, and that's why he doesn't get the jacuzzis, strippers and beer.

Well I've done the sums, and had a look at what a new-grad IT professional makes in one year, and I've used the old net-based currency converter to measure what I'm making by comparison, and I'm here to tell you, People, that to even come close, my organisation is going to have to put me up in a penthouse, and ply me with food, money and days out at the races EVERY DAY FOR SIX MONTHS. I'm owed something here, and I'm not changing one more putrid bandage until I get it!

Just goes to show you how our society has lost it's way, hey?

* Then you’re probably right.

Despite their hardships, people in these parts still manage to have a wonderful time, unlike those across the big wet, who have it easy, but are rarely satisfied. Pic: Hagas