Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The name is Pookie. Baby Pookie.

In January this year, I gave birth to my daughter after a quick labour of "just" two and a half hours. It was a normal delivery, and if this is what passes for "normal" then I believe womankind needs to have a serious chat with the Almighty.

But that's a separate issue.

Daughter dearest, who we shall refer to as Pookie*, came into the world looking like a tiny, hairy Japanese man. I'm not being racist, that's really what she looked like. Since then, she's been photographed more than Prince George, videographed more than *insert celebrity name here* and has featured in more selfies than your average fifteen-year-old.

This basically means that now every time she sees a phone, she grins like she's on a red carpet.

Being the intellectual snobs that we are, Rook and I have named her after our favourite social anthropologist / writer. It's a nice, long four-syllable name which is going to make her hate us when she starts school. Or trying to pronounce her own name. I'd be more sympathetic if my name had been, oh, I don't know, something short. We've also refused to put up her photos on Facebook because a) I'm superstitious like that and b) we need something to blackmail her into good behaviour when she becomes a teenager.

But till then, this is what happens when I come home from work every day.

* We didn't set out to nick-name her after Garfield's teddy bear. It's just a happy coincidence. We had actually nick-named our unborn child 'Mo' after the little white robot who whizzes around in Wall-E saying "Mo". 

Friday, November 15, 2013

You Want Good News? Fiiiine!

The charge? Criminal neglect of this blog.
The accused? Me.
The plea? Not Guilty by reason of temporary insanity.

Yes, I've been watching reruns of The Practice these days. What gave me away?

Look, I know, okay? I know I haven't been posting much these past few days weeks months. And by much, I mean at all. But it's not what you think. I haven't been jet-setting around the world on whirlwind book-tours and signings and readings for my now hardly-famous-at-all book There May Be An Asterisk Involved (available in less than fifty bookstores across the country, but on most websites selling books and ebooks).

No. It's just that I've been terribly busy throwing up and being tired and getting nauseous and being tired and losing sleep and being tired and let's not forget, being tired. I've also been piling on the kilos, not fitting into any of my old clothes and trying to make peace with the fact that all this is considered good news.

Because wouldn't you know, I'm preggers. Knocked up. With child. In the family way.

Kind of takes the mickey out of the creative urge, I can tell you. It's like the body sends a 'Go Slow, Creation Already In Progress' signal to the brain. Which promptly slows down, kicks off its shoes and raises a tall cool glass of non-alcoholic sangria in response. You can imagine how much fun that is for a hyper-productive, performance-oriented Type A personality like me.

Which is why I couldn't have come across Sheryl Sandberg's epic 'Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead' at a better time. It's a book that makes a startling amount of sense. It talks about how women themselves slow down their own progress in the workplace. It states facts you always suspected, raises questions you're too scared to ask yourself and in general, makes you realise you've been suckered for most of your life. Suckered into believing that it's okay for a woman to give up things she wants to do because marriage, motherhood, family are all more worthwhile pursuits. As if anyone ever tells men that it's okay to ignore their careers because spending time with family is "more fulfilling emotionally". But this is just me paraphrasing the book awkwardly. Go pick it up and have your mind blown, whether you're a man or a woman.

I know my decisions from here on will definitely be filtered through a more rational lens, thanks to Ms. Sandberg. Who knows, I may even post more often.

But let's not get carried away yet. By all accounts, the next two months are going to be the best time I'll have. After which the baby comes and I cross over to the Twilight Zone. Of sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue, irritability and the other joys of new motherhood.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Why Mr Darcy is a nightmare for women writers (My piece for Firstpost)

Editor’s note: The title of Vedashree Khambete-Sharma’s debut novel — There May Be An Asterisk Involved — is as much of a mouthful as her own name. Set in the world of advertising, its heroine that anyone who’s worked in an office will find familiar. She’s bright, driven, ambitious, a little bit of a mess and very funny. And while muddling her way through everyday life, she falls in love. This does not mean There May Be An Asterisk Involved is “chick lit”, insists Khambete-Sharma. She explains why she’s uncomfortable with this category and her love-hate relationship with Jane Austen.
I first read Pride and Prejudice in college. Probably later than most, but I had a good reason. A friend had told me about it in school, how she found it boring and long and… well, boring. And any geek worth her spectacles knows, if your cool friend doesn’t like something, then you’re like, so totally, not going to like it, right?
Except, I did. I thought Elizabeth Bennet was unusual. For one thing, she spoke her mind. For another, she wasn’t beautiful. Considering Disney pretty much hammers into our heads that only pretty, obedient, simpering princesses get the prince, this was an interesting departure. And then, I noticed the prince.i
I’m not going to wax eloquent about Mr. Darcy. But I’ll give you a moment to dwell on the man.
You’re welcome.
It’s like Jane Austen went through a list of the qualities most women find desirable in a man and built them into this character, chapter by chapter.
Strong, handsome, intelligent, reads books, a little haughty, has his own house manor, dances well, generous and doesn’t go on and on about protein shakes, Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you people?
But in the course of creating this blueprint for Mr. Right, Ms. Austen did a massive disservice to women. She set us up for continuous disappointment because let’s face it, no real man can match up to this.
Sorry, boys, but the deck’s loaded against you.
All through your relationship, on some unconscious level, you’re going to be compared to this man. You don’t have much of my sympathy though.
We have to go through our lives being compared to your mothers, so I guess it’s only fair. At least this one’s fictional. And hence, less likely to embarrass the shite out of us by picking his nose in our cousin’s wedding picture.
Coming back to the point, I recently discovered that Ms Austen hasn’t just cursed women with great expectations from mankind. She has also frockblocked women writers. I realized this while writing my own first novel, There May Be An Asterisk Involved. Before you ask, no, it’s not chick-lit. But romance pops up now and then within its pages, like a crop of mushrooms after the rain.
You’ve already assumed my novel’s chick-lit, haven’t you?
You know, for a race that’s basically a step up from intelligent monkeys, we have a bizarre love for labels. Take fiction. If it features dragons, it’s fantasy. Little green men? Science fiction. A woman protagonist? Feminist fiction. A woman protagonist who falls in love and doesn’t die /get raped /go on a vengeful killing spree /overthrow societal norms in some way? Chick-lit.
The only kind of book featuring romance that survives the chick-lit tag is the romantic tragedy. Romeo and Juliet, check. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, check. Gone with the Wind, check. That’s literature, man. People die and stuff. Bring on the Booker.
Chick-lit, on the other hand, has nothing as dramatic. The highest point of drama you’ll find in there is what, a break-up? A divorce? A professional crisis? Because, you know, those aren’t traumatic at all. They’re just silly, chicky things. That don’t affect men. Or happen to them. Right.
Me, I like to think that most people are concerned with everyday things, like your job, your parents, your boy/girl friend or your obvious lack of one; hell, even ingrown toe-nails are things you deal with every day.
So if the character I create is occupied with a particularly annoying ex-boyfriend, does that make her a frivolous, superficial “chick”? Or does it make her, oh I don’t know, real? Real like the woman who walks past a guy every day just so that she can pretend to ignore him? Real like the guy who tries very hard not to look at his best friend’s bust, but can’t help himself? Real like you and me and the millions of perfectly ordinary souls across this world.
So I wrote a story set, not in a war-torn village or in a incest-stricken family, but in advertising. Because there are stories to be told in advertising. I had the plot, I had the humour, I had a spirited, sarcastic, witty heroine. All I needed was a hero she could find interesting enough to date. Which means he had to be interesting enough for me to date. Which meant that sooner or later, he was going to turn into You-Know-Who. No, not Voldemort.
That’s who this guy was turning into. I didn’t want him to. Honest, godpromisemotherswear I wanted my hero to be a real man. Not in the sense of Real-Men-Fart-Loud-and-Proud or Real-Men-Don’t-Cry-During-The-Lion-King (what are you, four?)
No, flesh and blood men, who’d go to any lengths for their friends but want to spend Sundays lounging around in their boxers. Guys who’re kind and caring, but also stupid and arrogant sometimes. You know, like the part where Darcy thinks Elizabeth is too… you see what happens? You see how deep this sh*t goes?
In the end, I suppose I settled for making him witty, but not very talkative. Charming, but a little goofy. Not drop-dead gorgeous, but not too shabby-looking either. The kind of guy who’s only slightly annoying, in the nicest possible way. Real in as many ways as I could manage. The perfect foil, in fact, for my handsome, flirtatious, insincere anti-hero. Who… now that I think of it… is in many ways quite similar to… George Wickham.
The best laid plans of mice and men, I tell you…
Vedashree Khambete-Sharma is the author of There May Be An Asterisk Involved, a novel absolutely, positively not based on any ad agency she has worked at, in the last eight years. Promise.