Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 14, November 1-15, 2021
The Woman from Madras Musings has, in the past, read more than a few quotes about women that are highly weird, to say the least. Usually disguised as pearls of wisdom, these quotes carry dubious theories about womenkind who have been compared to an astonishing variety of things in the name of pithy similies. Some feel that a woman is like a fish – “… neither would get into trouble if they keep their mouths shut.” Others feel that a ‘good’ woman is like the sun – “… no matter what you do, she will always come back.” Over time, people have compared women to – among other things – bees, roads, shoes and egg sandwiches. You would think that (Wo)MMM would have gotten used to these maddening statements. But, the world is never short of disappointments and (Wo)MMM came across a tweet recently put out by a social media influencer who thought it important to let the world know that “… a woman’s forehead without bindi is like mysorepak without ghee or sambar without drumstick.” If you’re not sure why this grates upon the ears, let (Wo)MMM unpack all the problems laden in these words.
First, please be assured that the last thing most women want to be compared to is a favourite food item. It’s almost never flattering; on the contrary, it can be rather terrifying on occasion. Once, (Wo)MMM was told quite sincerely that her eyes ‘looked like a pair of black grapes.’ While she understood that it was meant to be a compliment, all she could think of at the moment was one Stephen King short story where demons munched on the eyeballs of hapless victims. It was no surprise that most people were horrified that the gentleman above chose to compare a woman’s forehead to mysorepak and sambar, even though they are dishes that he presumably holds in high regard. (As an aside – (Wo)MMM wonders if the gentleman has read that wonderful poem Caliban at Sunset featured in a book by the Perhaps Greatest Writer. The punchline goes, “This man who stood beside me/ Gaped like some dull, half-witted animal / And said, / “I say, / Doesn’t that sunset remind you / Of a slice /Of underdone roast beef?”)
Of course, the tweet probably wouldn’t have received so much attention if it had stopped at being a well-intended, if clumsy, compliment. No, the gentleman had to hint that a bindi completed a woman and those who did not wear one were lesser creatures, presumably relegated to the ranks of sugar-free desserts and pavakkai. Far from being encouraging, the gentleman’s comment reminded (Wo)MMM how annoying bindis can be on occasion – mind you, (Wo)MMM is not talking on behalf of all women here, all she has to go on are her own experiences. First, the sticker pottu. (Wo)MMM’s forehead seems to be allergic to most forms of it. The glue reacts violently with the skin and makes it break out in angry pimples. In her younger days, (Wo)MMM tried experimenting with all sorts of sticker pottus out of curiousity and at one point, she remembers, her forehead looked like an obscene depiction of the Little Bear rendered as a constellation of pimples instead of stars. (Wo)MMM turned next to kumkum and chandu pottus, of course. Devoid of glue, these had no adverse reactions to the forehead. But when (Wo)MMM broke out in a sweat – which was quite often in the Chennai heat – the pottu invariably dissolved into gory rivulets which made their way down to the nose in a most disconcerting manner. And so they were abandoned as well. Today, (Wo)MMM does wear a pottu now and then, having found a workaround to the glue issue – but she has ample empathy for those who choose to forego carrying one on their foreheads.
With such strong opinions on display, (Wo)MMM couldn’t resist clicking through to the gentleman’s profile to take a closer look at the face behind the words. The picture was that of a man in a neatly pressed suit and tie – the gentleman, for all his zealous enthusiasm for tradition and culture, was neither wearing a pottu nor a kurta or a veshti. (Wo)MMM must admit that she was rather satisfied at the sight – sometimes there is no balm as soothing as hypocrisy.
The Woman from Madras Musings was pleasantly surprised when, a few months back, the vegetable seller on her street stopped her and lovingly handed her a fresh cob of sweet corn. (Wo)MMM confessed that she had no money to pay for it, but the seller wouldn’t hear of it. She warmly pressed it into (Wo)MMM’s hands, declaring that it was a particularly lovely cob of corn; she even hinted that nothing would give her greater pleasure than to see it eaten by (Wo)MMM. Needless to say, (Wo)MMM was quite touched and continued to think of the seller as she snacked on boiled corn later that evening. The kindness didn’t stop there. The seller continues, till today, to gift (Wo)MMM various items of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis like some legendary fairy of nutrition. For the past six months or more, (Wo)MMM has received at no charge delicious mangoes, yummy green peas, fresh cucumbers, sweet carrots, appetizing tomatoes – the list goes on.
It was last week, as (Wo)MMM was polishing off a particularly tasty bowl of papayas that she mentioned the whole thing to the mater. A brief pause ensued before the mater’s face brightened in sudden comprehension. It turns out that the street (Wo)MMM lives on has a beautiful golden retriever (who, according to the pater, has the loveliest ears and gambols about in a most charming way with his tongue lolling out) who is great friends with the vegetable seller. The dog reportedly runs out to meet her as she sells her wares on the street, tail wagging and tongue presumably lolling until she gives him some vegetable or fruit to eat. I don’t think he is in town, said the mater, for he hasn’t been greeting her for a while. She probably misses him, she finished, looking significantly at (Wo)MMM, who found herself at a loss for words. It took a while to process all the feelings brought on by this revelation. In the end, it must be admitted that it is a rather flattering thing to be thought a close substitute to what is clearly a very charismatic golden retriever. (Wo)MMM will rather enjoy being the rebound until he comes back to his friend.
Last weekend, The Woman from Madras Musings was driving through a key neighbourhood in the city when she noticed, in the distance, a group that had congregated by the side of the road. (Wo)MMM was still a good stretch away but it was clear that it was a serious gathering. Many chairs had been placed upon which important-looking men and women were seated. It all looked quite purposeful and (Wo)MMM couldn’t help giving the group a good long glance as she passed them. They were all engrossed in their phones – some were holding forth at length to callers at the other end while others were presumably texting people; yet others seemed to be watching or reading something on their smartphones. (Wo)MMM thought it was a tad odd that none of them seemed to be talking to each other until she noticed a big poster behind the gathering. ‘Mouna Vratham’ it read in large letters – the whole thing was a silent protest! (Wo)MMM was so surprised that she failed to read exactly who the group was or what they were protesting. Now, no one will know.