On Loving and Losing Weekends

I recently read the meandering meditations of Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide To Getting Lost. A set of personal essays seeking the meaning of being lost, losing valued places, people and times, and on the sense of being lost in thoughts as well, the book was perfect bed time reading. What does one lose when we sleep? Apparently, during REM sleep our body is temporarily paralyzed which is why we do not move in reality even when we might move in our dream. We are truly lost to ourselves in the night-time, perhaps in a dark cavity filled with symbolism— of desires, dreams, fears and ambitions. What else could explain dreams? Weekends are, I think, the night-times at the weekly level.


It has been a little more than a year since I began my PhD research. Delving into the most darkest dystopias for my research, I have a newfound appreciation for everything simple and bright. How absolutely wonderful that we still have trees! Sunlight! Rain! To think that there could be worlds where there are incessant acid rains, surrogate slaves and a constantly spying government, or a perpetual motion machine that goes around a frozen world, is now just – work. When you take up a long-term project such as this, it is inevitable that it creeps into your time outside work, as well. I have found myself wondering about a possibility or an idea, even a brainwave that restructured an entire chapter, when I am least expecting it– such as in the middle of the night or when I am folding laundry. That is the process.


One day off a week is a useful system when doing a PhD. This has mostly meant that I am losing my weekends to research. One could argue that the post-pandemic flexibility in work timings has made it rather common for weekends to not be the relaxing time they once were. Given that weekends are indeed social constructs, it is only realistic that a global pandemic could also erase the social emphasis on weekends, just as it did with the expectation of working in offices. Could it be that we are witnessing the end of weekends? Or, is it just me?


As a child, weekends for me meant time spent at my ancestral home with grandparents and cousins. Every Friday evening, my parents would drive my sister and me to my father’s house in rural Kerala, a one hour drive away from the mild bustle of Calicut city. My grandfather, adamant as he still is, would open the gate himself and our car would be parked. My grandmother would insist that I wear at least a necklace, or that my sister wear a bindi. My grandfather would ask about school. After the cursory tea and seasonal snacks, my sister and I would slip away to my cousins’ house next door to announce our arrival.


Growing up, visiting my relatives meant being back in the thick of the action. There would be political arguments between my uncles and my grandfather, heated discussion on what someone implied at a recent social event, a nostalgic foray about the past and some quiet afternoon siestas. Those weekends were what I looked forward to after long weeks at school. During the summer, there would be extended time spent with my grandparents. My cousins and I would be busy building our little makeshift hut in the backyard. It was our private hangout complete with a mini-fan, a mirror and some magazines. The perfect getaway from the adults.
By the time I was in high school, these visits began to get harder to schedule. I had weekend tuitions and my sister had her dance classes. My cousins seem to grow quite rapidly during our time away. Weekends were now already a semi-free time with extra demands from school. But that also came with excitement in tuition classes and other events. In college at Buffalo, weekends meant trips to get Indian food. The best haunt was a Pakistani restaurant called Zaiqa with excellent naan sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was on the way to Niagara Falls which meant my friends and I also visited the tourist haunt every other weekend. I consider myself lucky to witness the roaring majesty of the waters of Niagara, to hear it thunder down. You always hear it first before you see it.


Now, weekends are just time to catch up on chores. To do laundry. To plan meals. To order groceries. To buy cat treats. To cook fancier dishes. To read just for pleasure.


Maybe I already lost my weekends to adulthood even before research happened. Or maybe it all just happened at the same time.


But is it not hopeful that for centuries now, humans have just collectively agreed to have two days off a week from work? I know there are exceptions – obviously – but it just says something about humanity that we follow this norm across cultures. It is simply indicative of our collective need to rest. To recuperate. To just be.


I hope this is not the beginning of losing weekends. I like to think that back home there are kids playing cricket on the grounds and closer to Leeds, families having picnics out in the parks. I like to think that some child somewhere is excited to visit their cousins during the weekend. That some teacher somewhere is glad to take a hike and get away from the classroom. I also like to think that at some point, I would enjoy my weekends just as they are, chores and all. I hope you do too.

What Kiss of Love Stands for and What it’s Doing for India

Let’s get this straight. The fact that Indians have to hold a protest on the streets for the freedom to show affection in public is itself ridiculous. On top of that, you oppose the symbolic protest that strives to broaden your mind? Now that’s getting as ridiculous as Shah Rukh Khan’s new movie Happy New Year. We have reached Mars and we still feel the need to assert our moral policing roles in others’ love lives. How typical of us. Before you jump your gun and talk about the holy “Indian culture” that has to be protected, consider what this unique protest actually stands for and what it’s doing for India.

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1. Kiss, Not Sex; Love, Not Lust

Kissing is not a precursor to sexual intercourse. I repeat, kissing is NOT sex. In most of South India, especially in Kerala being seen with a guy or holding hands with a guy or God forbid, expressing affection to a guy in any way, labels the girl as a slut. The couple is subjected to harassment, in the form of looks, words and actions. Kiss of Love stands for the freedom to not be harassed by goons, for showing affection in public, i.e. if one hold hands with someone in a park or shopping mall, kiss or hug someone or celebrate Valentine’s Day with one’s loved one. The natural question then becomes, where do we draw the line? That is a matter of personal discretion and simple common sense. Kiss of Love does not stand for a show of nudity in public, full sexual intercourse in public or non-consensual show of affection in public. You want to kiss, you kiss. Two individuals showing their affection is by no means, any of your business. An aversion to PDA (public display of affection) exists even in the liberal Western world, but nobody harasses or beats anyone up for it. Get the difference?

2. Acceptance for homosexuality

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Among the protests that have taken place in Kochi, Hyderabad and Delhi it has not just been a man and a woman kissing. The Kiss of Love movement recognizes that love is not just heterosexual. It is high time that gay and lesbian love be accepted in the Indian society as a form of love itself and not an aberration or perversion of heterosexual love. Even while being a protest against moral policing, Kiss of Love is also providing voice for the homosexual community in India, causing a lot of butt hurt among the RSS and Hindutva organizations who stand for “Indian culture” and the normative heterosexual love. If the controversial Section 377 that criminalizes homosexuality has to be changed, society’s perception of homosexuality should change. This is what Kiss of Love is doing in a latent way even as they struggle against moral policing and homophobes.

3. Exposing anti-female sentiments in the Indian society

Most counter-protesters (yes, that includes the state and the police who have oppressed the Kiss of Love protesters) have shamelessly engaged in shaming the women who participated in the Kiss of Love protest. Perhaps the most extreme and vulgar example of this can be seen in the Ban Kiss of Love Facebook page of a group called Kochi Freakerz, who have resorted to the despicable act of shaming a popular model and one of the female advocates of Kiss of Love, in an example of moral policing. What more, they have gone on to express “sympathy” for “such women” who are evidently seen as base and immoral. Have they seen the sculptures in Hindu temples that show our goddesses expressing their sexuality and freedom? What “Indian culture” are they talking about? The truth is, by Indian culture, they mean the cloistered Victorian mindset and the puritanism of the British that was reproduced in many ways, through Section 377 and the mindset that women are responsible for “upholding morals” in the society. There has been no other instance that has brought on such widespread anti-female sentiments recently, with some individuals even justifying rape in the context where women are allowed to express love in public! Again, Indian culture? Please understand that rape (non consensual intercourse)  is the perversion, not a consensual public show of affection.

4. A show of love, not violence

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Rapes happen in broad daylight. Murders and assaults happen in public. What is so wrong about kissing in public that irks the Indian society so much? How does a bunch of youthful protesters gathering to kiss and show affection tick off the violent goons of RSS and the police? In a world where wars and terrorism reign, where violence and gore is only causing numbness and less and less indignation, in a world which desperately lacks empathy, why does love and not violence offend you?

5. Conversation-starter within families

Families, being the basic units of society and where most of socialization starts, the Kiss of Love protest capturing national attention contributes to more conversations within families about moral policing, freedom of expression and perhaps even homosexuality. In a context where such a protest is a mainstream discussion topic, there is no better time than now to have a conversation with your family members about what their take is and why they think so.

When I began having conversations about the protest and started showing my support for the movement, more than two male friends expressed their interest of whether I would have gone for the protest if I were in India. Their tone clearly showed the mockery for the nature of the protest. Some others expressed their concern that we should be focusing on other pressing problems such as lack of sanitation, rape cases and corruption. To them I want to ask, is there a priority list somewhere that the society should follow in order to solve issues? Why not appreciate the effort to redefine personal freedom in a repressive society? I don’t know how long this movement will last or what the results will be. But judging from the rapid spread of the protest from Kochi to other parts of India in a matter of days, the youth’s sentiments against moral policing certainly seems like a force to reckon with. In this context, to those protective brothers,sisters, uncles and aunties, who are concerned for their neighbor and “Indian culture” than for the protection of individual freedom, Mwaaaahh! Get well soon 🙂

For the love of Porotta

Kerala-Porotta

For 3 years I have refrained from blogging about Indian food that I miss while I’m in Amrika, so much so that the repressed food nostalgia began popping up in my poetry. That tradition ends now.

The culprit is Kerala Porotta. First of all it’s porotta, not paratha. (If you’re saying it wrong then correct yourself now or don’t read further). Porottas are our pride, the layered delicacy which is a part of an average Malayali’s diet for reasons that defy logic. Is it because they are healthy? Hell no. Is it because they are easy to make? NOPE. Does it have anything to do with the seasonal peculiarities of our little coastal state? I don’t think so. But we love it. It could be the hot smell wafting from freshly home -delivered porottas or their whiff while you’re walking near Paragon Hotel. Or the sight of them with a spicy side dish. Or just the right blend of crispiness and rubbery-ness. Or the joy of breaking a piece with your hand and feeding the appetite of your senses. Or everything. Like I said, the reasons defy logic. P for porottas, P for poetry and no place for logic. A day laborer to a businessman enjoys his share of porottas. And no wonder they are popular. Easily accessible in thattukadas for cheap prices, hotels for moderate prices and five star restaurants for ridiculous prices. In fact, it is an eat-out dish. All Malayalis eat porottas but a precious few actually make them. DId you know a porotta-cook can earn upto 1000 Rs. a day? No wonder Dulquer was trying so hard in “Ustad Hotel”!

If you ever have a tendency to compare Malabari porottas, that love-child of Malappuram pathiris and the sheer creativity of Keralites, to North Indian aloo parathas, please refrain. Granted the stuffed parathas might be nutritive, spicy and even heavier, but what really beats the unique texture and taste of Kerala porottas? Nothing! Nothing from mexican tortillas to rotis, from dosas to pancakes, from pita bread to naan bread – nothing matches the pride of Kerala.

Porottas are hard to find in America. You can find Biriyani, rotis, naans – even dosas and idlis– but porottas are rare, people. Value them. I’ve been grabbing every chance I get this summer to gobble up porottas. I’m not even kidding – free treats from friends, home deliveries when the kitchen deserves rest, lunches, dinners – it’s been porotta. (I know my carnivorous friends might be thinking “What did you even eat it with? Kadalakkari?” but cut me some slack – Let us unite in our porotta love! FYI, I ate it with Mushroom Masala). Also, because I’m a Googler just like you and because I like this site’s name here’s a Kerala porotta recipe for you – ttp://www.kothiyavunu.com/2009/10/kerela-parotta.html . Some day, maybe I’ll make some too.

There are exactly 23 days remaining for me to find and eat some more porottas. Feel free to buy me some, kind reader.