Thursday, June 30, 2011

The inside of a women's locker room

Thanks to my love for swimming, I have been frequenting the women's locker room at the exclusive country club (an integral part of the hip and happening lives of the neo-age Gurgaonites these days). The chlorinated smell mixed with the aromatic fumes from the shower rooms brings back memories of yester years as well as thoughts about how things are different.

Nakedness is pretty demystified in Western locker rooms. But wonder just how do Indian women deal with a public place for private affairs! Are they shedding their inhibitions as they shed their clothes? Isn't the locker room the only place you can do that without giving two hoots about what the world thinks? After all, its for the women, by the women, and so forth, right?!

Well, Apparently not. Just as easy it is to attract a man's attention..its just that hard to hide from a woman's gaze. At first glance, all you see is lot of skin, waxed legs, designer swimsuits and loads of sunscreen getting applied(yeah..baby), but there's also sets of critical eyes that are checking you out. Surely there's a democracy of women, but where vanity reigns supreme. One's influence is calibrated through one's physical attractiveness. Just track the server girls(yes..Gurgaon clubs have server girls in the locker rooms to hand you the towels from the racks and fill your cuppa water before and after your swim.) and you'd understand.

So you're left with only one choice...Flaunting off your fairer skin and most toned curves while tucking in the inches and hiding away fat in whatever little lycra is at your disposal to bring out the most possible near-perfect appearance outside the changing room. Alas, your hair cannot come to your rescue since that has to be tucked in the cheap fakes of Reebok swim caps (Why don't they make designer swim caps..surely an untapped market opportunity!) Rest assured, everyone else is doing the same. That's a pity..considering Indian woman that has just begun to set free from her traditional avatar, is now getting trapped in the confines of her external appearance. Some even take it to the extreme...by applying lipstick (well, ok lip gloss) and practising their smile before taking the customary dip. (Too much FashionTV I say!).

But at the same token, if her toned body and facial-ed skin is giving her the ability to face the world confidently, so be it. (In fact, my patronage to the health clubs and beauty industry in India). The shyness that she harboured because of her conservative cultural universe is slowly giving way to the shyness that's now coming from her cellulite marks. Luckily cellulite marks are not as permanent as age-old social blocks imprinted on her mind.

By the by, while we are still in the locker room...why is it that we don't give ourselves the luxury of upgrading our inner wearings, while everything external from swimsuits to bathtowels have to be designer? Most of us still hide our lingerie as if its a loot from the hood. Is it because its not for the consumption of the external world and therefore not consequential?! Why do we try so hard to please the world while ignoring our inner-self?

But I see hope when teenage girls in their tees come zooming in and zoom past, completely oblivious to this locker room charade. Their nonchalance makes me believe that they will be comfortable in their own skin, designer-wear or not. And I sigh relief.


Btw, for the menfolk, here's a video that be more appropriate:
Peeping into a Women's Locker Room

Thursday, June 16, 2011

LIA to R2I : Decoded

So when a friend checked up on how I find returning to India after so many years of living in America, she became the 29th person in the last 3 years who posed this question to me. I believe its a classic topic for Indians LIA (Living in America), only second to the stagnant house prices in the US.

Three categories of NRIs reside in the US these days: one that want to R2I (Return to India), one that think that the ones that want to R2I are out of their minds, and the rest who stay in Fremont or Sunnyvale (or such equivalent "mini-India" suburbs). Regardless of the category, they are always interested to find out how it is to return back to India, or how is it different or how does it feel.

Blame the IT crowd and their access to tools, many a probabilistic models are available on the net to help you determine the success rate of your R2I decision. But these models however mathematically sound they may sound, offer more mental turmoil than respite. Plus, today's India has changed. Brain-drain to culture shock..its all reversed. So here are some fresh insights for those still in the dilemma. I assure you these are missed in the weighted ratio of "sense of belongingness" vs. "kids upbringing".

The chaos rules

While US thrives on rules, in India chaos rules. In India, anything that can possibly break down, will break down and when you least expect it to.(Murphy would have surely visited India before he created the law.) From your washing machine to your water pipe, from land lines to power lines, from anyone breaking the traffic light to the monsoon gods breaking the roads..No doubt, your appetite to deal with such chaos is going to be inversely proportional to your frustration quotient, esp. if you are used to machine-dried clothes, working from home and driving on the freeways. But if you rise beyond your frustration, you'll realize the true value of it. Chaos exists to make you more tolerant, more adaptable and never taking things for granted. Take India as the breeding ground for the new age "social Darwinists".

Cricket, media and more

Cricket lovers don't need much convincing. The fever, the final pages of the dailies and the BCCI (that ensures that you never face cricket-free nights again) are reasons enough to lure you to India. Not to mention, the ability to watch cricket in prime-time and in box seats and not at the wee hours on internet or via expensive TV packages. If you are not into cricket per say, apply this analogy to Bollywood.

The rest of the thrill for the day is provided by the news media. Back in the US, you could be shuffling the newspaper only to read headlines such as "Percentage-point drop in student-teacher ratio and its impact on the divorce rate" or "Ban on the legalization of gay marriages". The Indian newspapers have no space for such mundanity. Indians rob and rape, kill and kidnap, bribe and strike all in a days worth of time. Each ending up competing for headlines the next morning, albeit for your reading pleasure. The broadcast media does not falter either. They'll use every tactic at their disposal (such as highlighting, flashing and breaking the same news 8 times an hour in different fonts) in order to arouse you. There is never a dull day. Entertainment is in the air!

Irrational exuberance

As fresh-off-the-boat R2Iers, you'll be expected to lead the way in leading an "American lifestyle". This is similar to how the US investors exhibited "irrational exuberance" back in the 2000s. You'll be expected to (or inclined to) splurge more money, ignore the inflation, and buy expensive cars (instead of expensive stocks). (SUVs for men, and automatics for women pls.) So what, if you drove a second-hand 1999 model Toyota Corolla and saved every penny for rainy day when you were in the US. And forget about budgets. Its passe to even roughly estimate how much your lifestyle costs. Credit card statements are no longer a yardstick here because 75% of your expenditure is done in cash. Something is wrong if you're not visiting the ATM every day. I suggest that future ATMs be housed in temples so as to add to the daily ritual of worship...and withdraw. Falling prey to the predictably irrational human psyche, women like myself get prone to develop a currency conversion bias over time. as in "That 100$ dress never looked so accessible in the US, as does the 5000Rs. one here in India.'
Btw, the best kept secret to-date (for women) is that you can get more beautiful in India. The sight of slim, trim, make-overed women around you is inspiration enough. Add to it, the beauty services available at your doorsteps at the fraction of the cost. Experiencing exuberance yet?!

The Human Touch

As much as the US is infatuated with automation and human-less systems, India relies on its 'human touch". In fact, that's the USP it can boast of. After all, there are a billion hands at hand. You will have a maid that will not only wash your utensils, but will wipe them dry and put them in their proper place..as opposed to the dishwasher that only does the former. And she'll not differentiate between the oil-smeared kadhais and the fine chinaware..she'll wash them all in one cycle. The Indian waiters will serve you food in your plates as opposed to on your table. In India, the elevator has an operator, the vending machine a server, and the "xerox" machine a copy guy to provide that extra human touch to these lifeless pieces of automated machinery. But even the human touch can get to you...if its frisking you at every mall, theater and airport.
Or worse yet, harass the crap out of you if it is of the horny hands amidst the metro mobs or the hands of street peddlers forcing their goods on you.

R2I=Return to Infinite Opportunities

India is the only place investment bankers come to, when they get bitten by the "writing" bug. But then again, IIM-A graduates can become anything they can dream of, in India. Baba can become Mahatma by the power of his followers.
If you are an aging actor, you could try your luck in the Parliament or join any of the 19 budding NGOs that suit your style. And if you are not, then the idiot box is your oyster. You could be doing talk shows, talent shows, cookery shows, or even dating 12 eligible candidates at the same time.
And If you are in IT and have lived in the US for more than 5 years, you could consider yourself demi-gods in the paradise of job opportunities. You'll have 3 MNC job offers each willing to outdo the other in terms of your "price" err..compensation. If compensation does not tickle your bones, they will throw in a "management" job profile. The LIA tag should suffice for any lack of real management experience. But its not just about the corporate opportunities that you can avail. The freedom to explore unchartered territory is most enticing. Almost behind every really successful R2I story is someone's attempt to grab an opportunity to do something that has provided a new meaning to their being. Friends who've become enterpreneurs from employees, bloggers from full-time moms, celebrity cooks from corporate junkies. India has an insatiable appetite for one and all. It does have a fat belly.

But I digress from the satirical nature of this piece. Here are some "mastercard ad-priceless" abilities that you can acquire, only if you R2I.

  • The ability to get ready-made (better yet, custom-made) furniture without ever having to exercise your carpenter-skills for assembling the IKEA pieces.
  • The ability to talk to a doctor when your child is suffering a minor cold (even if its more for your mental peace than his runny nose) or to get instant access to Dadi's nuskas.
  • The ability to drive on the right and the wrong side of the road instead of just the right-hand side.
  • The ability to do facebook without worrying about your house-chores as opposed to the ability to do it while doing your house chores.
  • The ability to wear colors without being bound to the color of the season.

Btw, if you are still confused as to which way to oscillate on your R2I decision pendulum, here's a friend's quote that sums it all up "40% of things are better in US than in India, another 40% are better in India, and the remaining 20% are the same. You have to decide which 60% work for you."