Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Expectations too great

A few years ago, I went into a doctor’s office for a routine checkup.  Being an Indian doctor and given the fact that I was also Indian, as he was doing his routine activities (like checking my blood pressure, etc), he also started asking questions (in his broken English) about my personal life:

Doctor:  So where you’re from?

Me: Chennai originally.  How about you?

Doctor:  I’m from Hyderabad.  [writes some info in his chart]  So what age you got married?

Me: 28.  My wife and I…

Doctor: [interrupts] Why so late, man?!

Me: [looking at him perplexed, and a little annoyed] Excuse me?

Doctor: [glaring at me angrily] When I got married, I was 22.  My wife was 21.  Nine months later, we had our kids.  That only is the correct way.  Nowadays, everybody’s getting married like 28,30, 32… very bad… very, very bad!

At this point, I was doing the slow burn.  I was tempted to put my fist through his judgmental face but then I remembered that I needed this arrogant bastard to write up some prescriptions for me.  So I  kept my mouth shut, got my needed prescriptions written up and got the hell out of that office as fast as possible.  What was meant to be a simple doctor’s visit ended up being an ugly reminder about the great expectations… ridiculously high expectations that me and other Indians like myself face from our families and our own Indian community every day.  Here are a few:

  1. A.  You need to get good grades – When they say good, they mean only one thing: A+ and a perfect 4.0 GPA!  Good grades in Indian terms equates to perfect grades…. no room for error! Needless to say, I didn’t quite make the cut on this one.  My GPA wasn’t too shabby, but it wasn’t quite “good” either.  I don’t mind this one so much since it sets up to do well in our careers, but one should only strive for good grades, not expect them as a minimum.
    B.      Hold a high degree like MBA or Phd – Unless you’re studying to be a doctor, you need to get one of these to be brag-worthy for your parents and relatives.  Again, I came up short.  In fact, when one of my aunts was wife-hunting for me many years ago, she felt “utterly disgraced” when she had to mention in the matrimonial ad that I only had a Bachelors degree and not a Masters.  Oh, the horror! How can she ever show her face in public again?!?! :-P
    C.      Become a doctor, IT Professional or engineer – Your parents did it, your great grandparents did it… so you should do it too right?! :-P  Gee, I wonder what they’d say about my brother, who did game programming and shader writing work for the movie industry.  Doesn’t exactly fit the mold, does he?!?!
    D.      Make a good salary – Closely tied to Expectation C.  Just like expectation A, when they say good, they mean a stable, kick-ass awesome job that pays close to six figures or more!  Only then can you afford the nice car and house that's required of you after you marry. You also need a state-of-the-art blackberry cell phone that lets you do everything, including balancing your checkbook. After all, you gotta have the bling for the marriage thing! And, oh yes… if you’re a guy, it helps to be in a leadership position in your company so that your parents, relatives and your eventual wife can brag about you to their friends and relatives about how important you are -- fervently checking your Blackberry for new emails every 2 minutes helps a lot!
    E.       Get married before age X  and have kids before age Y – Now we come to the really fun expectations – ones that have time limits! This particular expectation is one of my biggest pet peeves and my reason for writing this post.  The reasoning behind this expectation is simple – get married young… and have your kids soon so that you’ll be young enough to raise them for a long time…. and then force all these expectations on them… so that they’ll be successful and have their kids young enough… so that they’ll be young enough to raise their kids for a long time…. and you’ll be a young enough grandparent to help them out... well, you get the idea.  For the marriage requirement, if you’re a guy, age X is around 30 (well, at least it's better than that idiot doctor's ridiculous requirement of 22!); if you’re a girl, this age limit is two years before that.  As for the kids’ thing, age Y is about 18 months after age X -- within that time, you have to either conceive or give birth; otherwise, you’ll face ridicule and banishment from the Indian community - alas, I came up short here too!  Now, why did I group marriage and kids together into one category, you ask?!?!  Well… because in the Indian community, the two are one in the same! After all, the wife is just a baby-producing machine, right?!?! :-P

All these expectations are a reflection of our Indian culture which can be summed up in one word – pressure!  Pressure to be wealthy… to be successful… and push ourselves to the limit to fulfill all the expectations listed above so that we can also be considered good enough to be a normal Indian.  Narrow-minded proponents of these expectations would argue that it’s this immense pressure that turns coals into diamonds, but the same pressure can also crumble the coal to dust.  The problem with pressure is that there will be only stress/tension from trying to meet an expectation and a temporary relief from fulfilling it -- there will be no joy in anything that you do; even if you’re a coal turned diamond, you’ll never be a happy one!  Call me crazy, but that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

All these incredibly unfair expectations only make us wound up, hyper-driven and running around like rats in an endless rat race.  Take a look at these rats below:

They aren’t really rats, but all of us.... running nonstop to meet expectations... running to beat the guy/gal before you..... running to buy more things... running to keep up with the Joneses.... and running endlessly to find the happiness that eludes us every single day.  If you’re in this race, please get out of it.  Stop worrying about what other people think or expect -- do your best in your endeavors and let the chips fall where they may.  Life is too short to be a rat in a rat race.  And for those of you ultra-conservative, narrow-minded wet blankets who keep pressuring us…. please get off our backs and get yourself a goddamn life!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Endless Misery

They came to this world
Without a voice
so I fight for their lives
for I have no choice

But this endless war
It tires me fast
I do not know
how long I'll last

Determined, obsessed,
so full of rage
Locked up, restrained
by life's cruel cage

This unwanted burden that
I shoulder every day
It drives me to madness
in every single way

To my very limits
I'm forced to bend
Hoping, praying for this
nightmare to end

(Special thanks to Saru Singhal for inspiring me to write my first poem)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Enter the Hindi serial

It was about six years ago when I first saw my first Hindi serial.  It started off as an uneventful weekend with me sitting on the couch, bored and a bit tired, looking for something interesting to watch on TV.  And that's when we got our first preview of Zee TV.   Hey, I've watched Tamil serials before, so how different could it be?! Afterall, it's still an Indian serial!, I thought.  Little did I know!

Now, for the most part, Tamil serials show gritty realism -- if the actor had to play a poor person, they would be put in an actual hut and made to act in that hut with dirty clothes and deliver lines perfectly in the harsh conditions until they get it right.  But oh, how different Zee TV was!  It had subtitles for the Hindi-illiterate like myself and grand sets fit for royalty.  The families in these serials were so ridiculously large that they could occupy and entire town by themselves!  Yet, somehow, everyone seems to have endless amount of space in what seems to be apartment-sized bedrooms.  Almost all the families in these serials were as rich as Mukesh Ambani, and are dressed as well as him (if not better) even when they were at home.  After all, only the most expensive, latest designer clothing will suffice for this average "middle class" family. Why, the women actors are so well dressed that they even go to bed and wake up with their full makeup on.  In fact, they are even better dressed for household chores than most people are for going to parties.  Amazingly, while they do these menial household chores, none of their designer clothes get dirty and no sweat can be found on their perfectly flawless creamy-white faces.  Heck, even their makeup never fades or gets smudged when they wash clothes, cook or do the dishes!

And speaking of makeup.... have you ever noticed the exaggerated makeup used for the female villains?!?! In addition to the infamous "villain" look consisting of cheesy glares or squints, there are the exaggerated eyebrows, thick mascara and eyeliner, and sometimes extra large bindhis (my personal favorite) as wide as a Frisbee...... and all of it as "subtle" clues to let you know that the person you're looking at might be just a little bit shady.  Check it out:

Who needs to act when you have such obvious visual references?!?!  It's so obvious that even I notice them... and I'm a guy!  And speaking of guys.... the men in these serials... well, ALL of them are totally sleazy douchebags that have an affair sometime or the other.

Aaah, but wait... it gets even better! Now, let's say you're willing to have enough suspension of disbelief to overlook the above-mentioned details for the sake of television. There's still the fact that no one ever dies in a Hindi serial... ever!  If they do "die", they are magically reincarnated with a new face, height, and build in a later episode.

Finally, there are the dazzling camera effects.... the illuminating of faces when they enter the room or realize a startling truth.  Then, there's the camera effect of swooping down from above to highlight an important character... and another that zooms in... and another that moves sideways... and repeat the whole thing atleast three times.  I think the video below sums it up best:

Now, I could go on and on, but then this would be a 100-page post! :-)  The important thing to remember when watching Hindi serials is that they aren't meant to be realistic -- they are there offer the viewer entertainment in the form of Escapism, a chance to take a break from the rigors of everyday life.  Stop worrying about the lack of believability -- just sit back, relax and enjoy the unintentional comedy of it all! :-P