Sunday, 29 March 2009

Kapde- complexities and misnomers

Do you know the difference between the kurta, the kameez, the salwar and the churidhar? Do you know what Indians mean by the term ‘suit’?

For a long time when I was much younger, I acted, dressed and even sounded a lot like a boy. Wearing traditional Indian clothes, was not something anybody expect from me. I loved Indian clothes, just not on myself.

This last one year though, has seen my cupboards fill up, with kurtas that I pair with skinny jeans, a host of shoes/chappals, scarves and chunky jewellery to go.

I thought I knew my Indian clothes, but a recent conversation with a Punjabi friend unearthed some personally astounding facts.

She: “Hey, so do you have a saree ready? Have you stitched your blouse?”

Me: “No.. I’m not wearing a saree.”

She: “What?! But you’ll look great! You’re tall and thin!” (>_>)

Me: “Well erm.. I should’ve planned for it earlier. There’s no time now. But I got the material. I’m going to stitch a salwar. Its purple!”

She: “A what?”

Me: “A purple salw.. “

She: “You know.. all you people keep saying ‘salwar’ and it makes me so irritated. So what now, you plan on going only half clothed, with a bare chest?”

Me: “Huh?!”

She: “Salwar!! Salwar means only the bottom part.. salwar is only the pants! Kameez is the top part, the kurta!”

Me: “Oh, umm.. Well yea, that’s what I meant.”

Geez.. You think you know something..

Here's the next detail of Indian clothing I was unaware of.

While at the tailors (yet another Punjabi) to get my kameez stitched, she asked me: “So how tight do you want your suit?”

Me: “No! I said I wanted to get a kameez stitched!”

Her: “Huh?”

Me: “I don’t want a suit stitched out of my beautiful purple raw silk! I told you, I want a kameez stitched.. “

Her: “Ji, suit is same as kameez. Salwar-suit. We say like that na?”

Me: “Ah.”

A couple of weeks later, nearing the time of the event that my friend and I had been talking about earlier, I became desperate. I needed a matching white dupatta and white pajama to go with my kameez. I rounded up 15 aunties and accumulated a total of 17 dupattas (I was supposed to get another 8). They were all supposed to bring their clothes to church that week. My event was in a few days and it was very important that they didn’t forget, because I wouldn’t be able to collect it from them otherwise.

As for the pajama, I called up my best friend and said, “Hey, so can you bring me a white churidhar tomorrow?”

When I met her after service that day, I asked her for the stuff. She took out a giant plastic cover and showed me all the dupattas she’d brought me. “Where’s the white churidhar, like I’d asked you?” “What white one? I only have this one black chuddi.”, she replied, taking out a black kurta with silver embroidery.

I was fuming by now, that she’d been so careless, and panicking over what I was going to do for the event.

Me: “No no no! I’ve seen it! You wear it with this very same black kurta of yours!”

She: “Huh?”

By now, I realized what had happened. She thought ‘churidhar’ meant ‘kurta’, and thought that I had asked her to bring something she didn’t have. But churidhar is actually another type of pajama, worn by both men and women in the subcontinent, below their kurtas.

Aaah. I couldn’t blame her. I myself didn’t know the difference, until a few days before.

So I took a deep breath, and decided to educate her on the complexities of the kurta, the kameez, the salwar and the churidhar.

Earth Hour ’09- A confession

When I first heard about the Earth Hour 2 years ago, I thought it was something that had probably been around for years, and I had simply not heard about it. It’s a brilliant idea. I just didn’t think it could be a new one. However, I was surprised to learn that it’s only been around for 2 years.

To tell you a little about the event,

Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights. Global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.

In 2009, Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote. Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community. A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support to VOTE EARTH during Earth Hour 2009, and this number is growing everyday.

The idea is simple. Switch of all electrical appliances for one hour, from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, wherever you are, at your local time.

People I know have been talking about it for about a week now. And since I have initiated a lot of environmental activities in my community, people asked me specifically about it and if I was taking part. Even thought I did my best to publicize the event, I felt that I didn’t need to really take part in it and endure the discomfort of having no electricity for an hour, since I was already enlightened. I felt that the event was more for other people, to whom the good news hadn’t yet reached.

The goal of the programme is not so much to save an enormous amount of electricity on that one day of the year, but to instill in people, a lifelong value, to conserve as much as they can and protect the environment. And this is why I self righteously didn’t think I needed to participate.


I’ve just gotten back home from an Earth Hour event organized at a local school. It was organized and sponsored by Coca Cola.

From 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm, some of my friends performed a string of popular alternative rock tracks. They had musicians playing the saxophone, the tabla, the bongos, along with electric and acoustic guitars.

And from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, the Earth Hour, the lights were dimmed and bits of The Inconvenient Truth were screened. It was followed by a choreography to Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal The World’, and ‘We Are The World’ and ended with a lucky-draw of people who had calculated their carbon footprints beforehand, and had submitted it.

I’m definitely going to organize a community event next year just like this, and would like to encourage you to do the same too.


As much as I may have felt that I was already doing things right and didn’t need to participate, I have a confession to make.

I sleep with my lights on, almost everyday.

I’m usually reading or writing and just fall asleep over my work. But most of the time, being tired, I get under covers thinking I’ll shut the eye for 15 minutes, only to wake up the next morning with my lights still on. Of course I use CFL lights. But that’s beside the point. The point is, I am as guilty as anyone else. I must change. I must. So if it means taking the comfortable quilt off to switch of the lights, or being more disciplined when the alarm rings to tell me my 15 minutes is over, I must do it. I know that I’m not the problem, but I know that I am contributing to it. So it’s going to be different for me from today.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Elections vs. IPL

The fact that India today is making the choice between conducting the Indian Premiere League(IPL) and the General Elections, boggles me. And the fact that popular opinion is, that the elections should be postponed (or even cancelled?), scares me further. Even though I’m one of those few Indians who may not be a personal fan of cricket, let me assure you that this write has nothing to do with that. I have nothing against cricket or people who enjoy the game. What I do have a problem with, is when we Indians let our passion take precedence over what should be priority. Is India truly thinking about this choice?
The present Central Government has said that they cannot allow the IPL to be conducted as per the IPL’s plans, as it will clash with the poll dates. This security concern was magnified several times over when the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan was targeted earlier this month. The IPL has submitted 3 revised schedules, but none of them were found to be suitable. Certain State Governments had stated that they can conduct both events with their local police force. But some of the States that had earlier agreed, later pulled out. Basically, a big mess.
The opposition has seized the opportunity to deface the ruling party, with plenty at stake with General Elections just around the corner. The opposition argument is that the Government‘s inability to provide security, is admitting inadequacy. Moreover, cricket fans and opposition alike believe that this admission is grouping us with other volatile neighbours, which is going to detrimentally affect western perception of the region, and of India.
I cant say I agree with the opposition arguments. And here’s why.
>> The Mumbai terrorist attacks, the global financial crisis and now the security inadequacy.. would have been much the same, whoever was in power. This Government is only doing what is best for us. Do you think they are not aware of how much there is to loose in terms of votes, from all the cricket fans across the country who are outraged and pointing fingers? Come on, give them some more credit. They’re not entirely stupid. At least they’re not stupid enough to play around with something as sacred as cricket, and lose out on votes. They are not here to deprive us of our fun.
This Government has its back up against the wall. They could either give in to popular demand, dispatch troops to the matches and jeopardize Election security. Or they could use the security for the Elections but risk losing the elections anyway, because of it. If they choose option 1, and if something goes wrong at the IPL, tables would turn on them, with the country and the international community questioning why the matches were held if there wasn’t enough security. This is hardly a devil and deep sea situation. The right path to take is very clear. And in this tight squeeze, I believe that this Government has worked in the interest of the people, and not in the way that the opposition is claiming it would have handled the situation, which would have only served to manipulate votes in its favour in the bargain. How convenient for Arun Jaitley to criticize the Government. How very very convenient.
>> Isn’t it better to admit that we may be stretching ourselves too thin by conducting both events simultaneously, than pretending that we had it all under control and then suffering an untoward incident?
>> Western perception about this region of Asia and the Middle East, is already skeptical. Its been so, since forever. A lot of them think Africa is a country. So hey, there’s nothing new here. And why… why do we care so much about what they think? Why are we fawning for their accreditation? This is exactly the state India was in with the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ when we were ecstatic because the white man patted us on the back.
And lets not forget: 9/11 happened in the USA. 7/7 happened in the UK. And even after all that, a year or two ago, yet another major plot was foiled in the UK (when fluids were found, that contained potentially explosive substances.)
Anyway no matter what the western perception of India is, they are still going to do business with us. As much as they may want to, they just cannot blot out this subcontinent. Have some faith.
With regards to this fear, that we are being grouped with our unstable neighbours and being painted with the same brush, let me tell you that the stereotypification would be exponentially worse if an attack was actually carried out, or even a plan for it was discovered and foiled. And what happens to ‘morale boosting’ then? When we are hit where it really hurts, we may never recover from it. THAT will be a real psychological depression. If we do fail to prevent an attack, that will be PROOVING we are unsafe, as opposed to now, when people may only be THINKING of us as unsafe, but taking precautions to be safe.
What if some of the foreign players sent us word that they refuse to play in the IPL due to security concerns (Of course they wouldn’t do that since they’re getting rich from this.)? We already know that several teams have refused to go to Pakistan in the recent past. Would that not be a huge and painful slap on our faces, if it happened? I actually wish some of the players had backed out, because I don’t think anything else would work, in rousing this nation from its sin of trivializing of what is important. Security, elections and democracy should be on the main course. IPL should be stomached only if there’s space after all of that.
>> “We must show the terrorists that we are not affected, by conducting the IPL anyway.” Indeed we shouldn’t let terrorism govern our lives and we must live them fully. Of course we should still continue to go to the theatre, drink tea at expensive hotels, go dancing, use the subway, etc.
Something like the IPL is almost sure of being targeted. What makes us think that there isn’t an attack planned for the IPL? This false sense of security that we are feeding ourselves is getting us no where. Its just brimming with potential for a terrorist- thousands of euphoric and dizzy fans, lots of media coverage, and the heart of the people as well. There isn’t anything more they could possibly ask for. But I definitely agree that IPL must go on.
However, this situation that we are in, is not a risk worth taking. Not at the cost of innocent lives. The Government did not say that IPL should be totally scrapped for the next 10 years till we sort out terrorism. The Government has only asked for it to not coincide with the elections. Is that so unreasonable? No, we shouldn’t cripple ourselves and live as a shut-in out of fear. A painting could fall off the wall and kill us anyway. But it doesn’t mean we live recklessly and without caution.
This philosophy that lot of people have, “I’ll live my life to the fullest, I don’t care what people think, I’ll do what I want to do” is one of the reasons we are in a perpetual mess. If you know your cord is frayed, would you still go bungee jumping? Shilpa Shetty when asked to comment said she prefers to be optimistic about terrorism in India. ITS REAL! Theres no ‘sunny side’ to it! Isn’t it about time we stopped living in denial and faced reality?
>> What makes us think we are so invincible? When the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team took place, Imran Khan said that no one expected something so important to this subcontinent, to be targeted. He said that there could be a possible backlash for the terrorists now, since a lot of people who may have supported them, would probably be re thinking their choices. Did the terrorists not know that such a consequence could take place? They are not stupid either. Of course they knew. But they did it anyway, because they don’t care what we think. Terrorism is not new to us. Why do we still behave so na├»ve and nonchalant about it?
>> Its very easy for a cricket crazy person to make all kinds of justifications for IPL to be carried out anyway. They say it is a boost to our morale, and enables us to flaunt our stuff to the western world. I think it was the actor Rahul Bose who said, “We trust our Government and security. We need to have more confidence in ourselves.”
But the security of the country is not the concern of the cricket crazy person. And neither is it the concern of Lalit Modi, Preiti Zinta, Rahul Bose or any of those others. They will have bullet proof cabins to retreat into and will be surrounded by security at all times. Or do you think Lalit Modi actually ‘cares’ for cricket fans, and so the IPL has been created just to feed that emotion? Please be real. IPL is about money and nothing else. Its not about national pride. The Olympic Games is about national pride, because it is all inclusive. The IPL is about a few rich people who came up with a brilliant idea to get richer.
Apart from the loss of innocent lives, that doesn’t seem to be many peoples’ concern, imagine if Shah Rukh Khan was actually shot or even grazed by a bullet! Do you remember when the actor Rajkumar was kidnapped by Veerappan some years back? There were riots on the streets because he was worshipped. And I mean literally prayed to. This is a country where cricket and film stars are a religion. And conducting the IPL along with the Elections, has everything to do with the above.
>> Its common knowledge that the General Elections in India happen every five years. We knew it was going to happen in 2009. This is probably one of the most established characteristics of our country. IPL however has only been around since 2008. And if anybody is to be blamed, it is the organizers of the IPL because they should have known better than to schedule it for the same month as the once-in-five-years spectacle of polling.
>> Terrorism can happen anywhere, at any time. It could happen at the World Cup in 2011. But I’ll bet the UK isn’t conducting their Elections on the same days. And if they are, they will still probably have sufficient resources to do so. Remember they’ve had troops in Afghanistan for the last eight years or so, since 2001. There is no dearth of men to be sent to die on the front lines, in these ‘western and more capable’ countries. But there is a dearth of similar men, here.
For me, the issue is much larger than the smooth conduction of a cricket match. Its more than the fact that there are thousands of disappointed fans. For me, this raises a much larger question of, if our head is really screwed on our shoulders or not. Are we thinking in the interest of our country. Are we really capable of putting entertainment and sport ahead of security. We are the largest and one of the most successful democracies in the world. Are we really ready to give up on all that and compromise, because we want to watch a cricket match. Are we that stupid.