Tag Archives: the new indian express

Some Recent Press

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I talked to Isahitya (October 2012) about vulnerability, mysticism and the book I’m concentrating on now.

And to Doodleblue (August 2012) about my old column, “The Venus Flytrap”, and what I dislike about India.

And to The New Indian Express from London (July 2012) about participating in Poetry Parnassus.

A Little News About The Venus Flytrap

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Those of you who read The New Indian Express would have realised by now that the Zeitgeist supplement, in which my column (“The Venus Flytrap”) ran continuously for almost three years, has come to its end.

At the moment, I don’t know what the future of “The Venus Flytrap” might be. I’m very attached to the column and I’m hopeful that this is not the end of the road. This is just a note to thank all of you wonderful people who have read it, shared it, commented, or otherwise been a part of it. I hope you’ll continue to share my journey as I wait to see what’s around the next corner.

Featured On A Full Page (More Madras Week)

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A full page in today’s Expresso! Knock aside the food listing and the film ad, and you have an article apiece about “The Sea Story” and the readings on the first night, the theme for which was Cities+Pride.

Five more nights to go! Yesterday’s was Cities+Envy, which went splendidly in spite of the rain and the delay caused by the rain, and tonight’s is Cities+Wrath.

You can check out our full page spread at the e-paper here (available only for today — hopefully I can scan it up by tomorrow). Expresso section, page 6 (Madras Week feature).

The Venus Flytrap: At The Mercy of Her Bite

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Let me just tell you straight up that I have penis envy. Every Rorschach test you could possibly give me will prove it. Like O’Keefe, like Freud, like – Oh! – Hinduism, I can’t get the nethers off my mind. I discern shapes, nature and various abstractions as phallic or vulval. The latter I find sexy, spiritual, artistic, but complex, unlike the former. The former make me laugh, they make me ogle. The former have me fascinated by their humour, simplicity and ultimate alienness. For a pretty ballsy woman, my lack of supplementary equipment entertains and holds my attention to no end.

There, now that that’s out of the way, feel free to celebrate my complete discrediting from the feminist movement by lighting up, very aptly and traditionally, a cigar.

It was a cigar and a conversation with a male friend surprised by the sight of a woman smoking it that got me thinking about my penis envy and expressions of it. Coming to consider this, it surprised me too how few women take to the cigar. Like all the usual paradoxes of the more tasteful vices, it seems the premise of only sophisticated men and strange women.

From Che to Churchill, bastions of masculinity seem to like sticking big long objects in their mouths and sucking on them. Cigars are sexier, less subtle versions of the sceptres and swords of yore. The underlying motivation is practically kindergarten-level Freud to analyse, but worth the giggle.

Yet it remains risqué for women. Someone suggested it’s the gracelessness of it; essentially, one fellates a cigar. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t eat in public, either. Anything involving the mouth – including speech – is inevitably sensual.

After all, it’s mainly a decorative accessory; cigar-smoking is an art, not an addiction. And what could possibly be more sensual than a woman sitting by herself in a dress too fancy for the bar she’s in, sipping a gin and tonic, wearing shoes to tango in, exhaling from a Cuvee Rouge as she looks you in the eye?

I heard your breath still. See what I mean?

But back to business – do other women not smoke cigars because they do not have penis envy? Or could it be because – let me just throw this wild card in – the idea of a woman controlling a phallic object, having it literally at the mercy of her bite, is too disturbing to the (male) viewer to digest?

It’s important to note, of course, that as far as phalluses being evocative of power go, only the erect ones count. So good girls can eat spaghetti, no matter how long and uncut, without conjuring up any primal images in the onlooker. This is also why the cigarette, too skinny to be of consequence, is invalidated. Penis envy is not sex – on this count, size definitely matters. If it’s not obscene, it’s not an expression.

Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that the rooster-synonym is king. Men have their walking-sticks, their neckties, their Papua New Guinean penis sheaths. As well as their fleshly counterparts. What’s a woman with penis envy to do to take her power back but put a symbol between her teeth? What better way to deal with an object that can’t be owned than to objectify it?

A parting-shot defense of penis envy, then (because while it may be true that I’m a gay man stuck in a woman’s body, I’m thrilled it happens to be this one): war, after all, is just a manifestation of menstrual envy.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: My Weekly Column, Out Now!

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So I woke up nearly two hours early today because I had to see the paper.  After six years in journalism, my byline by itself is no longer a source of hysterical excitement. But (deep breath) I have a column!

That column is The Venus Flytrap (special thanks to Chat for suggesting the name), in the Zeitgeist section of The New Indian Express. Zeitgeist is the Saturday paper, full of “alternative-style” columns. What can you expect from me? My dirty yet political mind, of course. :) Editor wanted “Early Salon.com meets better Sex and the City meets traditional op-ed”. I thought, “I’m game! Just don’t call me Carrie.”

I’ll be posting up my unedited columns here for archiving and sharing. Here’s installment one.

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THE VENUS FLYTRAP

The City of Secret Sin

On New Year’s Day, my sisters and I were at a Barista on Chennai’s trendy Khader Nawaz Khan Road, where we were treated to something of a spectacle in this city: PDA.

Now if there’s any three-letter acronym that raises the hackles of the self-appointed moral guardians of the nation, the Tamil nation, and their general indignation – it’s this one. More specifically, if the parties in question are of opposite genders (men entangled in one another’s arms as they swagger, octopussily, down the street are as common as the cow).

So there’s all the accounting you need for where my manners went when I spotted the hetero couple on the couch, spooning, he nuzzling and kissing her neck while she affected rapturous expressions for a solid fifteen minutes. I stared like my eyelids had vanished. Curiously, the other patrons and the staff were completely blasé.

Was I offended, I asked myself? I, who pride myself on standing for liberated mores, who believes in the legalization of marijuana, the decriminalization of prostitution, the repealing of Penal Code 377? I had a problem with some mild making out within my sight?

No, I consoled myself. You haven’t gone that native yet (I’d been back in the city just a sullen three months at this point). What shocked me, I realized, was that somewhere between my last long spell in India and my present one, it looked like the social order had hiked its skirt above its head and started sprinting into the 21st century. And I had some catching up to do.

One thing I’ve learned about Chennai is that just when you’ve reconciled yourself to her conservatism, her stick-in-the-mud, tattle-to-Appa (or, more appropriately in times past, Amma) sense of staying firmly entrenched in an archaic world – just when you think you know her, she sticks a foot out to trip you up. And then you turn around and see she’s in leopard print thigh-highs.

Still, something about this particular incident uncharacteristically unnerved me. It went further than superficiality: it was actual risk-taking. And that’s when I realized that I was shocked, but not scandalized – actually, I was kind of thrilled. And not just because our voyeur-baiting couple was, well, pretty hot.

It’s been said that identity is a constant process of exchanging masks: and it may hold truer in no other place on earth. This is where women routinely carry around three different outfits to fit into various contexts, relationships are conducted exclusively via SMS, and every straight man wants Mallika Sherawat (but not as his wife). All said and done, under our hypocrisies and – most tellingly – our extraordinary abilities of subterfuge and personality adaptation, we’re as sordid as they come. We populate like we’re competing with rabbits, our HIV rate is among the world’s most rapidly increasing, yet we live in denial of these serious facts, and settle instead for pretensions of progress.

I’ve noticed that these days, everybody’s buying into the myth of New Chennai, and I would imagine, New India. Mid-length skirts and malls make us ‘modern’. As the blogger Krish Ashok put it, the city has gone from being married to tradition to being in a live-in relationship with it. Or so it seems. Because when push comes to shove, we haven’t changed. Misogyny, casteism, religious and communal prejudice – all the old brigades still rule the roost. Our taboos haven’t dissolved; we’ve just found ways to negotiate with them in temporary, individual ways that work in tandem with the system and have no bearing on society at large.

But ultimately – and this is no reflection on the exhibitionists who led to this cud-chewing – these ways are like somebody’s Mami doing the Macarena – mildly amusing, briefly scandalous, but mostly just sad both in a lack of originality and in a reaction so delayed it’s turned cliché. And that’s the thing – when you throw your skirt over your head and run, you have no idea where you’re going. Call me prudish if you will, but I’ll take a full-skirted revolutionary over a panty-flashing bimbo any day.

So as wicked as I found it, I’m not about to equate a little PDA to the dawn of a liberated age. It’s probably more like 3.30am, but considering the 9pm curfews we came from, it’s still pretty cool. Kudos to the cozy duo for taking the time-honoured traditions of Marina Beach to a couch in a coffee joint. I’d gladly waive my right to enjoy my latte in peace for the sake of a little more honesty in this city of secret sin.

Sharanya Manivannan’s first book of poems, Witchcraft, will be launched in June. She blogs at http://sharanyamanivannan.wordpress.com

In Today’s The New Indian Express

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I don’t have a scanner, and I apologise for the clunky thing above. Please click on the image to take you to the file’s page, then click on the image again. Then, zoom in to read. Sorry!

For a change, am pleased with this print article that appeared in today’s The New Indian Express, in the City Express (Chennai) supplement. There’s a write-up on Poetry on the Pier, an interview focused on my feminism, and one of my poems.