Autopsied..

I read Patricia Cornwell’s latest Kay Scarpetta novel- Flesh and Blood.

It is really sad how the once Number 1 bestselling crime writer and mother of all crime-scene-investigation genre has lost the plot completely as to why her books became such a rage in 90s.

Kay Scarpetta- a chief medical examiner was introduced in late eighties. A 40-year-old divorced woman devoted to her work and justice- the books instantly won all awards and rose to stay at number one throughout the decade.

Scarpetta and Clarice Starling were two main reasons I got hooked onto new American crime fiction.

It was the ( then) unique concept of following the ( usually serial)killer using forensic investigation. Cornwell popularised autopsies, liver mortis, trace evidence, Luma-lite and other investigative terms. We read on with fascination as Dr. Scarpetta ploughed through smallest of fibers and dissected internal organs which uncovered the criminals. ‘The dead don’t lie’ is a term often used in the books. Scarpetta has reverence for the dead. She is tough but sensitive to injustice. She is meticulous and will not let go of any single inconsistency in her investigation. She is technologically suave and it was through these books that blockbuster shows like CSI gained credibility.

While we don’t have means to judge the technology or latest forensic science, Cornwell made it easy enough for us to feel smart by focusing on forensics.

Cornwell’s personal life was no less dramatic. She fell in love with a FBI officer whose husband kidnapped his wife and threatened Cornwell. Cornwell’s coming out as well as making once of the main characters in the series a lesbian was risky for the time. She married a neuroscientist Staci Gruber and they both were famous to ride helicopters and sue the fraudulent companies.

Scarpetta’s slightly stiff but ultimately kind character was central to the plot. As a woman chief in a man’s world, she maintained her clinical focus and never depended on her male colleagues or lovers for protection. She almost always was the most brilliant investigator of the lot. The series had the trappings of gun savvy, slightly right-wing ideology, Cornwell was after all a family friend of the Bush family. But the strong female characters- both heroes and anti-heroes were so unique and appealing, that we forgave them for being ‘one-of-the-boys’. Scarpetta also loves to cook and long scenes of her cooking elaborate Italian meals provided a sensuous relief to the bloody narrative.

And then somewhere she lost the plot. The personal anguish of Scarpetta soon became self-aggrandizing to the point of obnoxiousness. The oft repeated formula of the killer obsessing with her and getting vanquished turned comical as virtually every human being in the books started targeting her. Intricate twists turned into ridiculous conspiracy theories. Scarpetta’s heir-apparent, her brilliant niece Lucy Farinelli turned into a caricature. The helicopter flying, gun-toting, techno-wizard, ex-FBI-Agent Lucy turned absolutely repulsive and needlessly dark. Captain Marino- Scarpetta’s sidekick turned disgustingly annoying. The pop-psychology turned self-conscious. Scarpetta increasingly became paranoid. And the whole series lost its focus on forensic investigation and became a badly written chronicle of arrogant, judgemental, self-important people. The recent books almost read like a parody of noir-ish first-person narratives full of conspiracies and unbelievable criminals rising from their graves once too many.

I read some of the 90s Scarpetta books and while now they seem dated what with their obsession with technology, I think that is what Cornwell did best. And I wish she stops with her angsty pretensions and returns Scarpetta to dissect human bodies once again.

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What is in the name?

I have always wondered why women who don’t take their husband’s last name after marriage, end up giving it to their kids?

The woman is not a ‘property’ of her husband anymore ( progress!! 21st century!!) and thus is not bound by law to take his name.

Many would still take their husband’s name. For the sake of convenience as well as social customs.

Several, if not many women don’t choose their husband’s name these days. But 99% of those I know, will give the husband’s name to their child.

I don’t mean to sound judgemental, but I am genuinely intrigued again by this choice.

Now even Supreme Court is considering option of using the mother’s name in official documents.

Women invest far more in their children than men do. Be it the actual physical part: periods, pregnancy, birth, care of babies and adolescents. Or socio-cultural expectations and losses due to motherhood.

But when it comes to naming their kids- they invariably opt for the father’s name.

Why? Is it just a convention? Social pressure? Identity crisis? Proof of ownership? Ease of procedures?

This article sums up all my thoughts nicely.

The Monkey on the Gravy Train…

So you always know that people, well, most of them, are ‘KURSI KO SALAM’ types. They will be nice to you as long as they think you ‘are’ useful to them or ‘will’ be useful to them.

As soon as you drift away from the conventions of silly power play- they just delete you from their self-important lives. And hope that you’ll struggle like crazy to come back on track and hope that you can’t no matter what, and prove them right that disembarking the gravy train is leaving it ‘forever’.
They hope that you will call them ten times in sheer desperation, and they will not take the call and pretend to be in the meeting.
And they will laugh at you over drinks and claim how you were never right in the head anyway and hope that you are able to get some low-end opportunity which will bring you to their thick corner office door once in a while to get humiliated.

After all, you have seen them doing it a billion times to the best of the people and have seen these best people getting demoralised till they doubt their own capabilities.

They hope that you be the example they can quote till they are 80 years old. Example of how the worldly wisdom they live by is the ONLY way to live happily.

You have always known that since these people are almost always the most boring, and mediocre of the lot anyway, you are glad to be rid of them. After all, in today’s highly networked world, being away from ‘everything’ essentially means being away from people in that particular ‘thing.’

Some people surprise you because you naively thought they were your real friends. But the fact that you don’t miss them eventually, and they make you feel like a lost cause, makes you realise that they were just your bunkmates and all they ever wanted was to crib pointlessly as they licked as much gravy as they could.

You jump off the Gravy train a la Harrison Ford and relish the walk. And see the train from afar and see that it is, after all, just 2 tracks and a stupid train. And that it is just going round and round and round. And you realise that you are not missing the pace and you can see that the train is just there to take you forward and that it is not your life but just a stupid locomotive.

And you realise your own power firsthand as you walk, you drift, you bend down to pick up an interesting pebble, you sleep under starry sky, you make love to your dear ones, you drink crystal clear water, you play , you jump, you dive, you fly.

You look in the clear waters and you see your grinning expression and you realise- voila!!! You are a monkey. Not a human. You look around and notice, for the first time, that your loved ones are monkeys as well. The artists you admired- ditto. The people you adored- ditto.

You are a pack of monkeys. Why and how did you ever think you were a ugly,naked, no-fur, no tail human being? Were you suffering from some sort of identity crisis that made you believe you were a totally different species altogether?

And all the negativity, all the boredom, all the expectations, all the disappointments shed from your body as you run in fresh air with your pack, glad to be alive. Shivering happily to have discovered that you are a monkey- free from the burdens of so-called evolution to the hoity toity humanity.

A monkey life. A monkey joy. You are a monkey who likes to jump and clap and eat the juiciest of fruits with the juice running down your wrist just for the fun of it.

You just enjoy being on your feet again and feeling the ground beneath. You sit tight with your loved ones and take deep breaths of pure, fresh, natural air.

You know you might need to ride the train again for a while,and spent some time with the humans- but now you know it is just a stupid locomotive and are cool about it.

And then one day you decide you are ready get back on tracks for a few more years. Maybe, hopefully, so that you can say goodbye to the train forever at the end of the said few years. And gather all the fruits and come back to the tree.

You strut back on the track like a drunken monkey Jackie Chan style, and jump on it fairly easily because you are not ashamed of falling down. You know if you fall, you will just brush the sand off your palms, laugh at yourself and jump again. You are now a monkey- relishing the jumping and not bothering about where you land.

And you land your springy feet on the train and swing on the bars and pick up the banana from your back pocket and sit on the roof munching on it, oh you do.

And then all those humans who wanted you to be the example of deviant failure notice you again. ‘Hey- look at her. How is she back on the train? She didn’t call us. We didn’t get to humiliate her. We didn’t even get that banana.’

When they see you back on track, back on the train, munching your banana- their ugly noses quiver with surprise that is soon replaced by envy which is soon replaced by opportunism.

They shamelessly extend the hand of friendship again. Precisely because you don’t need their freaking hand. And they want a piece of that banana too.

And then you laugh when they clamber all over themselves to get re-connected with you. ‘Hey,’ they think, ‘ she wasn’t lying when she said she wants a break from the gravy train and walk on her feet. She meant it. And now she got a better place on the train. I want to be her friend again. So what if I didn’t give a shit about her during one year when she was doing great interesting things which I have no interest in or comprehension about. So what if I don’t give a shit about her even now. She might be my ticket to the first class bogey of foren country and tax free salary’.

You are surprised that you are not bitter and disappointed in humanity. You are a fully developed monkey now. Willing to take most fellow humans as they are. A dumb species full of useless emotions and goals.

And they wiggle and they joke and smile their fake smiles and try to connect and make plans.

And you.. you just wave at them, bare your teeth in merry monkey smile stained with yummy banana pulp and go back to your compartment.

Knowing fully well that you will be jumping off it again very soon once you have enough gravy in your monkey tummy.

Puh-leeezeee people…

This is a highly convoluted rant about the ‘PUHLEEZE’ people.

The PUHLEEZE people are characterised by the smug sense of ‘been there, done that’ superiority over anything and everything which seems like a new or a different idea/ lifestyle/ choice. They usually roll their eyes at people. They usually are aggressively sarcastic. They get defensive about people’s choices that have nothing to do with them. I suspect envy and self-doubt must be pre-dominant emotions they have.

Confused? Here goes.

‘PUHLEEZE- I am so over that Narmada Andolan and the activist types in Khadi zolas.’

‘ PUHLEEZE- I am so over people talking about women’s right to dress as she pleases.’

‘PUHLEEZE- I am so bored with 16 year old girls going on Greenpeace whale rescue mission and deciding to follow a career in Environmental Management, it is like so passé.’

‘PUHLEEZE- loving your dog is like so 90s.’

Got the drift?

When PUHLEEZE people were 14- they thought about revolutions. French cinema. Wild orgies. Adventures. Commitment to social cause.

Sincerely.

They felt they were ‘oh-so-superior’ to all the others who spent their teens stoned and trying to get a girl/boyfriend. But they were sincere. They were Sort of like kids in Secret History. They wanted to change the world. They wanted to be John Lennon. They wanted to write the next Second Sex. They wanted to turn Budhdhists. They wanted to work in UN Peace mission.

Then they turned 20 something and realised that they are not going to be able to do any of the above. Some out of choice. Some out of compulsion. Most because they grew out of their dreams and grew into something else. This is where they, like majority of us differed from the kids in Secret History. Well, these kids murdered their friend, but it was all in the name of Greek Classics and they are really cool kids, so.

And now they can’t take someone else doing the same things. Leading a life which they have chosen not to.

They want to show, every chance they get, that they have BEEN THERE…. they have DONE THAT…

‘PUHLEEEZE… I could have been an Mountaineer( insert any interestingly unique thing one can do) like that, but I just decided to be a stay-at-home mother at 25 and obsess about my kid. Now I get defensive every time someone extols the virtue of female Everest climbers, because to me it is a 100% proof they are not looking up to my choice to be a stay-at-home-mum. So PUHLEEZE, every time my mountaineer friend puts up her picture on Everest, I passive-aggressively put up 1508965’th pic of my kid grinning at camera. And expect everyone to be equally interested. Because hey, if you are more interested in the climber- you are undermining my choice.’

Or they cynically snigger at people participating in morchas as ‘those candlelight types’ and go on to vote for stability and sexy leadership. ‘ Puleeze- I wrote poetry in college and dreamt of equality. Now I go to my 8 figure 9-5, 24 hr stress job which contributes nothing to society and snigger at the losers who still dream about something other than their next investment option. I feel my heart contract when I hear them talk about their ideals and I retort by being sarcastic and smug and will argue about how dumb the naxalites are over a single malt. Puhleeze- I have been there and done that and everyone is born unequal and malnourished kids are responsible for their own fate no matter what Marx says.’

PUHLEEZE people like other people they can look down upon or criticise openly without feeling that pang of defensive self-doubt. So if you are an Asaram Bapu- they would love you because they can criticise you freely. If you are an unsuccessful web designer- they would love you because they love your lack of success. If you are in a frustrating 9 to 5 job and have a horrible husband- they would love you.

But if you are someone who has made some different choices ( especially the ones PUHLEEZE people dreamt about in their teens) and are happy about it- woe upon you. Puhleeze people will take out all the passive-aggressive weapons from their envy-ridden treasure of negative energy. And try to put you down. And point out how passé your achievements are in the annals of history. And most important of all- THEY COULD HAVE DONE ALL THAT LIKE DECADES AGO… IT IS JUST THEY CHOSE NOT TO… SO NOW SHUT UP ABOUT YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS OR I AM GOING TO GO TO THE WASHROOM TO CRY…..

The PUHLEEZE people can’t accept the fact that they resent others for leading adventurous / meaningful/ carefree lives and constantly feel a need to validate their own life choices by belittling others.

Get a life PUHLEEZE people… and leave others alone.

Pace..

Last one year has been almost entirely MY LIFE- AT MY OWN PACE.

And then the pace changed in the last month. Brother’s wedding, a job interview in a South East Asian city, negotiating the salary, coming to terms with a massive change in our life and preparing for it- emotionally and practically, long drawn banking work, a bad bout of cough & cold, a project connected to the job with day and night schedule.

It has numbed me from some gut wrenching changes in a not-too-distant-a-future. Will write about it when the time comes.

So far, I think I am coping well. I have not gone batshit control freak as yet. I blamed myself for a few things, but not for a long time. I have decided not to attach too much importance to the whole thing. Let us see.

Some good bagels, brother’s happiness in Pune, some excellent TV, lots of great sex and the dog’s increased hyper-activity due to slightly better weather have been the overbalancing factors in the balance sheet . The important side of the story. The only story that matters.

Getting back..

So I have started working – exactly 13 months after I took that blissful break.

The job will entail some massive changes in our lives which I will write about once confirmed.

For now, I feel a little tingling in my body going through emails and working on cleaning up the mess created by incompetent people and then trying to bring order to it.

Don’t get frustrated.Don’t take anything personally. Focus on money.

Is my hard-earned wisdom, which I hope sustains me for a year. I am not thinking beyond that. Life can be lived in random blocks of time and not linearly- another piece of wisdom for self.

The break was great and I was not feeling any dying need to get back. I started sending feelers a few months ago and got 2 jobs, fairly easily, let me be smug!

This one promises more excitement and fair amount of authority to do as I plan to. The other involves shitload of networking with dumb people and being nice to them! So it was an easy choice.

Some friends say I should wait for a even better one- blah blah- but I have decided to just take things as they come and not bother about what happens after a year, career path, where you see yourself in 5 years… la di ding dong da…

For now, I am not unhappy working, i.e., I don’t want to take a break already, although it has been only a few hours. Humph.

Gouri Deshpande..

I spent the last few days re-reading Marathi books that I have grown up with. We all have/ had our stock books for certain time, certain mood, certain phase. Gouri Deshpande, for me, marked a certain time in my teenage, and is 100% responsible for the fantasies of traveling around the world with sexy firang boyfriends and dozens of hot intellectual friends, swilling red wine and nibbling on cheese as we talked books and relationships, before coming back to a lovely traditional house in a Marathi village and living a stylishly simple country life.

Gouri Despande was Sex and The City of Marathi literature. Sans the overt materialism. Of course, after the exuberance and literality of teen age got over, I realised that there was a lot to her books than the lovely lifestyle and sexy men.

Deshpande wrote from 70s to 90s about urban, educated women in search of their identity and love. Her heroines travelled around the world, most often with their husbands. They would often fall in love with men – deep, serious, sensitive men- from various cultures. They would sometimes leave their husbands- not for their lovers, but because of a profound change in their perception of self-knowledge and purpose. Many would go to live in remote Marathi villages-where they would live very English country style, yet be fully Marathi in their daily life- strange contradiction that is absolutely delicious theme in many of Deshpande’s novels.

Her heroines, like herself, were intellectual- they preferred reading over dressing up, travelling over playing dutiful wife and introspecting over preaching.

At the same time, they were intensely physical- not only in sexual, but very ‘being aware of one’s body’ kind of way. Walking, hiking, trekking, swimming, working hard in the fields, cooking, making love, drinking- her heroines broke the rules of the tepid middle-class femininity of her times. They all had a lust for life and its pleasures and they meant to make sense of life on their own terms- while drinking in every moment of it.

Peppered with references of Cheese, wine, Bach, Jazz, international cities, romance, books- Deshpande was pioneering in vivid and often aspirational descriptions of what we now call Lifestyle genre. Sort of Travel and Living without the crass materialism and snobbery that distinguishes it in our present popular culture. The lifestyle she wrote about was more authentic,truly progressive and seeped in cultural adventure.

She expertly mixed the western with local. Many of her books feature a boho country life- where traditional meets modern in a smooth, non-conflicting manner. Her command over Marathi was phenomenal and she was one of the first ‘lets get back to the soil’ urban writer in Marathi.

A diehard romantic and bohemian, her books have a dry wit. Her women were feisty, their inner monologues often surprisingly bold for her time. Her humour, like her writing borrowed from the traditional Marathi sarcasm and self-deprecation. Mixed with her very westernised lifestyle, it made a delicious cocktail of modern Marathi identity- that was mostly fantasy, but very much rooted in the local culture.

From motherhood, to extramarital affairs, to female friendship, to love for animals, to platonic relationships, to sticking to your roots despite of your international heritage- Deshpande was aspirational for many women and girls reading her books.

They have been criticised for being formulaic, elitist and fanciful, and the criticism is not entirely untrue. There are stock characters, unrealistic setting and a contrived plot. But large part of the criticism was levelled at her because she was frank and unapologetic about her exploration of female psyche and experiences, including, booooo, sexual desire!!

Deshpande doesn’t top my favourite authors, but she is definitely someone who influenced me in my early years- I did manage to travel around the world ( on my own, unlike Deshpande’s women) and have a very ‘independent’ lifestyle. I didn’t manage international lovers, darn, but I am going to make it up by living a simple country life when I retire.