Sunday, June 27, 2010

Call of the Road

The automobile and the USA — it’s been a long love affair. And what could be more American than a good old-fashioned road trip?
by Elizabeth Flock | Jun 28, 2010 

"Road trip.” That’s all I needed to say to my friend Eileen. A week later, we piled into my 1986 Toyota Camry and headed out of Los Angeles. Destination: Home, Chicago, 2,112 miles away. The Camry was as old as I was — in fact, a mechanic had pronounced it incapable of making the trip —  but there had been no question of whether I would take it with me.

The cult of the road trip in America boils down to this: We love our automobiles. A mere 8 percent of us don’t own a car. When automobiles first came out in the early 1900s, critics said it would be better to just get yourself a horse. But, as American political satirist P.J. O’Rourke has pointed out, the automobile did get a horse for everybody. My Camry was my horse, and I loved it deeply, for its automatic seatbelts, deep furry seats, cassette tape player, and the right-hand window that could only roll down halfway.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

We live in public.

The Stanley McChrystal debacle today initially reminded me of the response to member of Indian parliament Shashi Tharoor's tweets about not wanting to travel "cattle class". Both were fairly stupid moves on their part, considering McChrystal's somewhat tense relationship with Obama, and Tharoor's with Congress over his level of austerity.

But the real issue here, I think, is about a the image our public figures have to cultivate for the public, and what happens when they reveal a bit too much.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Culture shock, shocks of culture

After less than a week back in America, there is still the pang of missing Bombay, but little culture shock. It feels strangely nice to be here, to have an immigration official say "welcome back" in a nasal Midwest accent, to not struggle to enunciate every word into the phone when I order a pizza. (Though I loved attempting Hinglish when I was in Mumbai.)

Vagabondish talks about culture shock here. And Author Amanda Kendle makes an interesting point, which is that the worst part of culture shock is when you come home and get stuck. In Europe, in India, you can travel around the country on cheap flights or cheap buses for almost nothing. Scrap some money together somehow and just go. In LaGrange, IL, I'm dying to go to Santa Clara for the weekend: $410. Or New York: $300. Might as well walk.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Leaving Bombay

I'm not done with #thebombayloveproject yet. But I came back home to the US in June all the same. I expected it to feel like leaving a bad lover, but it feels worse. I wanted to throw up at the airport yesterday. Cried until I couldn't breathe.

It wasn't just that I didn't know when I was coming back. It was that I had grown attached to Bombay, depended on her like a habit, craved time with her. The cool and empty tree-lined streets of the suburb I live in in Chicago were beautiful today... and disquieting.

Here are the first and last pictures I took in Bombay. Neither are technically good. But both are in the monsoon. I came to Bombay just as the monsoon was disappearing in 2008, the Arabian Sea rocky along Marine Drive, and I left just as the monsoon crept in this June 2010, forcing the phalwallas (fruitsellers) under the shelter of waterproof tarps. How can a human miss the rain this much?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

right aur wrong

One thing people I interview for #thebombayloveproject keep telling me is that love is both right and wrong for this city.

One way it's right is because in Bombay any person can be anonymous, swept away by the tides of thousands. Different castes and religions get blended together.  A person can disappear if they want to, reappear with another name.

It can be wrong because in Bombay there is no privacy. Lovers have to go to Bandra Bandstand, and sit along the rocks on the beach and kiss. Prudish mammis tap their canes on the lovers backs, but there's nowhere else for them to go.

Perhaps love is right and wrong for every city, but in Bombay it feels more so.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bombay Love Project

Here, I am, already two days late for the daily posting. But, as promised, the idea behind the #thebombayloveproject:

Bombay has changed a lot for its lovers over the past generation. Psychologist Shaifali Sandhya says marriage in India has undergone more change in the last two decades than it has in the last three thousand years.

Last generation couples lived through the country pre and post liberalization, in a time with only one TV channel and now with hundreds of dramatic serials. They lived through the austere, tighten-your-belt India and are now living the consumeristic, better-buy-your-wife-a-gold-watch one.

This generation is another animal. They’ve only seen the India who is on the world stage. They've only lived the India that is hungry for position and power and money. And they want those things themselves.

The last generation grew up in the 60s and 70s, the period of youth rebellion. If a girl wanted to love someone that she shouldn’t, of whom her parents didn't approve, she rebelled. It was fight, elope, or die.

This generation doesn't need to agitate. If a girl's parents say no, it’s beseech and appeal for your love marriage, and then beseech some more. And her parents just might say yes. Even if it’s to a man of another caste, or within the same gotra, or across continents to a man of another race.

Of course, it’s not all rosy. Hindu Muslim relationships are still do or die. Some parents don’t care if they hated chafing at the bit—they want their kids to do the same. But these are less.

There are other changes. Marriages are happening later. Joint families are becoming rapidly nuclear. There are more live-in relationships. More divorce. And more sex, sex, sex. Some of this has been mapped out, by Shaifali Sandhya in Love Will Follow, Mother Pious Lady, by Santosh Desai, Surviving Women, by Jerry Pinto. 

These tell the facts, the cold, hard trends. I want to tell the stories. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Good Night, and Good Luck Blog Revamp

Up until today, I used this blog merely as a space to keep all my writing for Forbes India and any freelance stories.  But now that I am working on #thebombayloveproject (explanation to come in my next post), I think the blog would better serve as a space to post findings of the project daily. It will included everything from finished stories to partly-coherent ramblings.

I'll also add links to interesting outside articles and excerpts from places like Photographic Youth Music Culture Archive, Arts and Letters Daily, India Uncut, Bartleby, The Guardian, NYT, Modern Love, and anywhere else that prints something new or beautiful. (Plus visuals from flickr, FILE, and LIFE; sounds from stereomood and pitchfork; and celluloid from TED, academic earth, and youtube.)

Mostly, though, it it will be a place to record findings of #thebombayloveproject.

To start, check out Ernest Hemingway's difficult short story on love: Hills Like White Elephants