the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The "Hole of Kolkata" Just Doesn't Sound Right

I have been corresponding with one of my favorite artists, Madame Talbot, about our mutual interest in Victoriana. I have always been fascinated with Victorian culture beyond the usual Indian tendency towards anglophilia. Now, of course, the tide has turned, and as Bombay becomes Mumbai and Madras becomes Chennai, I find myself out of the mainstream once again.

It started with stories of Sherlock Holmes, mixed with a steady dose of Louisa May Alcott and the wonderful Maud Hart Louvelace, whose Betsy-Tacy series forever solidified my view of what the world was like. Betsy and Tacy were two small girls growing up in turn-of-century Minnesota. Because the town was heavily German, the girls' third friend, Tib, said things like "Ach" and "liebchein." Theodore Roosevelt was the best president; the pompadour was in style; everyone was just converting from gas to electricity. Living in my own head as always, I was sure that this was how things still were, somewhere. Over the years, it continued with the stories of Edgar Allen Poe and the plays of Oscar Wilde, with their sardonic dark wit. When I was nine I cherished our library's copy of the 1901 Sears Catalog; I dreamed of getting a brand new gramaphone for only $2. Over the years, my interest spread: Rudyard Kipling, accounts of Egyptology expeditions, opium dens, the British Raj era, gothic novels, Harry Houdini, courtesans and dance halls and steamship trunks plastered with labels from the Golden Age of travel. I hated the writing style of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, but I have never forgotten their stories--the Moonstone, and an India that was still revered by my grandfather a century later.

I don't deny the British oppression of India, and that we are still recovering from our injustices. But I still find the era fascinating. Much has been written about how the British affected India in the 19th century, but little has been written about how India affected the British. As I studied the era, the casual racism and its implications became unavoidable. This was not an era that I would have been happier in. I would have been in the third class compartment, if I was lucky enough to get on the train at all.

And yet, I am interested. The Indian, the coolie, as the Other--the exotic, dark other, bringing a whole new face to the Victorian underground. Myths of Kali cults and thugees litter Victorian novels. Darker Victorian literature references the Kama Sutra in lurid terms. Bombay was considered the most gothic city in the world, with exquisite Victorian architecture. While the Indian people themselves were oppressed, the culture infected the British and seduced them. It was dark, yes, and unfair, but it was beautiful. By the time I was reading of Madame Blavatsky and her spiritualist movement in India and Europe, writing about Mata Hari's claim of being raised as a Hindu temple dancer and discovering what an Anglo-Indian was, I was hooked. The dark side of the British Raj was inescapably...goth.

Again. Not mainstream. I'm having a hard time finding out any information on India's effect on the popular culture of the Victorian era that's not excruciatingly scholarly. If anyone has any thoughts, they would be greatly appreciated...

Friday, March 10, 2006

They'll Never Invite Me To A Party Again

I think it's time I confessed: I'm an Indian girl who doesn't get along with other other Indian girls.

Okay, that should be qualified. I happen to like and love a very select group of Indian girls, the ones I grew up with. To a certain extent, I'm still the oddball of the group--not just for leaving Northern California for so long, but because it was inevitable that I would be the expatriat, always feeling like a little bit of an outsider. I'm a compulsive writer, and all compulsive writers become expatriates, to a certain extent. We have to step outside to look in.

But however much I'm out of touch with these girls, I don't really question their loyalty. They're not catty or competitive. There's not a mean bone among them. I've never experienced such loyalty, such solidarity in the face of the worst life deals out: death, heartbreak, scandal. I really don't care if we don't listen to the same music (although their allegiance to J.Lo is really getting out of hand) these girls, along with a few select boys, are family.

So those Indian girls, naturally, don't count. But outside of them, I can honestly say, I don't really seem to get along with Indian girls as a awhole. I get thrown out of their parties or snubbed at the door or accused of flirting with their boyfriends. And admittedly, I am the one who shows up with six people or bottles of cheap vodka, but I am NOT flirting with their boyfriends, who tend to be preppie investment banker types with a permanent leer in their eyes. Around most Indian girls, I always end up feeling that I'm talking too loudly, laughing too much, viewed as an ungainly combination of tomboy and slut. I have felt like this at Indian social mixers and bhangra clubs and weddings and Wall Street networking events, a sense of slow unease as I realize that, except for the person who brought me here, I would once again be standing the corner, leaning on a while and trying to look cool while no one talks to me. Or, alternatively three or four suave types circling like sharks, asking me what caste I am. Smooth, fellas, real smooth.

Because, I can say without a doubt, that Indian girls are exclusionary. Even my girls, God bless them, can't always be counted on to make an effort to a newcomer (explaining inside jokes, asking questions, including in conversation), but at least I can count on seeing new faces and no judgments. In other areas, I've gotten the cold shoulder and the murderous stare, and everything in between. And while they all brag about how much they like sex, they seem to have colossally bad taste in men, and while they claim to party all the time, the buzz seems to begin and end with a few beers. Nobody walks the walk, but they sure can talk.

The Indian girls I have liked and known, I have usually met individually, not in packs. There was V. who I lived with, with the 30's pencil thin eyebrows and 0% body fat, her friend T. jolly, openly, happily slutty. Both dated only black men. N. who I met recently, is the first in a long time to radiate smartness without snobbery, something that always leaves me cold. Another thing I like: experience. An Indian girl with a taste for adventure experiences as much as she can, something an acting teacher told me, in a private meeting. She could tell that I had lived my life in a bubble. It's been thirteen years, and I've done everything I can to step out of the bubble, to experience the good and bad things life offers to an Indian girl. I'm not interested in meeting people with too many rules and hypocrisies, whether they're Indian girls or not. But they usually are.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Midnight Ramblings

Yes, I watched the Oscars, mostly to see my man George win. But what was with all those neutral colored dresses? blond hair, blond dress, blond lipstick--ladies please. Kudos to Michelle Williams, Salma Hayek and Keira Knightley for looking, well, hot. As for Crash over Brokeback, I have no opinion, having seen neither, but now that "It's Ain't Easy To Be A Pimp" is now an Oscar winner, I can forgive the oversight of Coolio's Gangsta's paradise in 1995.

Laren S. read from The Bohemian Manifesto tonight, always a pleasure to see her read, as she looks both glamourous and demure. She and her husband recently adopted a ferret, who I love more than words can say. When I was a lawyer I dreamed of spending my nights at literary readings; now it seems I go to one every other night. Rooms of tipsy, drunken writers and stressed out editors--I think I need a vacation.

Toying with article ideas...Lessons from agorophobic lawyerwriters? Haunted houses in the bayou? An article for the chronicle of higher education about why law schools fail their students? why rock music should be taught in high schools?

Too sleepy to deconstruct my brainstorms...