Sampath G

Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

How to be positively negative

In Humour, Relationships, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm

“You’re always being negative, too negative,” the Wife said to me in the course of our scheduled Sunday fight two weeks ago.

In case you’re wondering – yes, we keep all our fights for Sunday. Except when either of us is travelling, in which case we reschedule the agenda of the missed Sunday fight to the next Sunday when both of us are in the same city (we avoid phone fights unless it’s an emergency and can’t wait).

We decided on Sundays because we’re both too busy to fight properly during the week, and Saturday is the day set aside for our respective errands. For Wife, it’s the day she buys all the vegetables I don’t like, goes to the bank five minutes after closing time (so she has a reason to go to the bank again next Saturday), and makes me feel guilty for not chauffeuring her around on wild goose chases.

Last Saturday, for instance, I was corralled into a second-hand furniture-shopping-expedition – ostensibly to buy a ‘comfortable chair’ for ‘back-achy’ me. All I got in return for five hours of standing and waiting and intermittently deploying my own bottom to wipe the dust off assorted antique chairs in a muddy corner of Lajpat Nagar were thirteen Georgian knobs for cabinets that don’t yet exist, dizziness caused by extreme hunger, and a heart throbbing with rising BP and unexpressed acrimony.

For me, Saturday is the day I sit down and prepare my weekly report on our perfect marriage, with concrete action points on how to make it even more perfect, and make the perfection sustainable in a challenging domestic environment and fast-changing emotional climate.

Restricting fights to one pre-assigned weekday has three advantages: it keeps most of the week peaceful; in the absence of an immediate trigger, you’re not adequately charged up for a full-blown emotional melt-down (which is mandatory if you have to take the fight to the next level); and fighting with your spouse isn’t much fun when it’s no longer a spontaneous outburst at a perceived injustice but a task on your to-do list.

So in this fight I spoke about, calling me ‘negative’ was Wife’s counter to my observation that she had forgotten to switch off the geyser three times in a row in one week.

“I wasn’t being negative,” I replied. “I was just stating a fact.”

“Now you’re being defensive on top of being negative,” she said.

I considered pointing out that her calling me ‘negative’, followed by her calling me ‘defensive’ – was a text book example of negativity. But on a whim, I opted for the road less travelled.

“I am sorry,” I said. “Tell me what I can do to stop being negative.”

Wife’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Is this supposed to be another one of your sad jokes?”

“Of course not!” I said, despite being fully aware that I was playing into her hands by answering a leading question, and thereby implicitly admitting I had made ‘sad jokes’ in the past.

“Fine,” she said, savouring her little victory. “Let me see if you can do this: whenever you find something to criticise me for, convert it into praise.”

“But how –” I began, but she cut me off.

“The moment you say ‘but’ – it’s a big sign that you’re being negative. Can’t you give me one week of no criticism and only praise?”

Put like that – as a challenge – I couldn’t not accept.

“Okay,” I said. “You got it.”

So a week went by – it was in no way different from any of the previous weeks, save in one respect: on Sunday morning, I found myself in the unique position of having a lot of ammunition but bound by an agreement to surrender all arms. And not only that, I was required to go the extra mile and convert my nuclear-tipped missiles into honey-coated flower rockets filled with Machher Jhol and tiramisu.

So this is what I said to Wife last Sunday:

“First of all, I would like to congratulate you on leaving the geyser on for altogether 33 hours this past week – this is three hours more than the previous week. I am confident that, with your consistent efforts, we will, in the next billing cycle, break all our power consumption records and surpass our previous highest electricity bill of Rs11,678 by a huge margin.

“Secondly, on Wednesday, you demonstrated tremendous courage and risk-taking ability by carrying out a comparative study of the melting point of steel and the boiling point of water. You did this by filling a steel vessel with water and waiting till all the water had evaporated and the vessel had turned black as a buffalo. By thus reminding me of my favourite animal (buffalo) and favourite colour (black), you instantly lightened my mood.

“Finally, on Saturday, you insisted on taking the Kalindi Kunj route home when I wanted to take the DND expressway, and we got stuck in a jam for two hours. Thanks to this, we spent two unexpected hours in each other’s exclusive company – two precious hours we would not had with each other if we had reached home one-and-a-half hour earlier, and I hadn’t had to cancel a crucial Skype appointment.

“So, thank you for being such a wonderful Wife – for being patriotic (boosting the national economy by increasing power consumption), inventive (improve my mood through an innovative scientific process), and really loving (willing to put self and spouse through a mega-traffic jam for the sake of quality time together).”

My little speech was received in silence.

“So?” I said. “Did I pass?”

She shook her head, and said, “Affirmative.”

Watching Mama with Papa

In Cinema, Hollywood, Humour, Relationships, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm

If you’re a resident of India, you don’t actually have to pay money to get terrified. All you need to do is pick up the newspaper, turn on the TV, or just take a walk down the road outside your gated community. This, in brief, is Father’s position on horror movies. As for going to the movies in general, there can ever be only one reason to do so: the opportunity to nap peacefully in a darkened, air-conditioned room in a snug, cushiony seat.

Though I follow some directors in the horror genre, I’m not a big fan of ‘ghost movies’ per se. But Wife is. And every new horror movie that releases, has to be ‘seen’.

I’ve put ‘seen’ within quotes because, as will soon become clear, there is a big difference between going to see a film and actually seeing it when you’re in front of a giant screen in a darkened theatre.

So last week when she began badgering me about going for Mama, Guillermo del Toro’s latest offering, I knew what was coming. But there was one complication: we were visiting my parents in Chennai after a long time, and as a model daughter-in-law, she wasn’t comfortable leaving her parents-in-law out of the ‘outing’. Mama, of course, wouldn’t be caught dead watching a film called Mama. But Father was persuaded to come along “for the experience”.

When it comes to movie reviews, Wife swears by the NYT critic Manohla Dargis, and this is what Dargis had to say about Mama: “Horror … rarely gets more enjoyable than Mama.”

Less than 10 minutes into the film, she was finding the film so enjoyable she couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to leave. “This is too scary, let’s go now,” the inevitable litany had started.

Father, on the other hand, was snoring so nicely in sync with the film’s scare moments that some in the front rows were turning around in wondrous confusion, trying to figure out the mechanics of the exceptionally good 3-D surround sound.

As always, I was the only one genuinely interested in getting my money’s worth of scares. But this time, over and above my usual challenge of paying attention to the film while keeping Wife in her seat, I had the additional one of not letting Father’s snores – which were gradually rising in volume, and establishing their own identity as a composition distinct from those approved by Mama’s sound designer – distract me.

I am not sure about the physiological rationale behind this, but I was amazed at how he slept through all the loudest scenes in the film – the sudden crashes, screams and clangs – but would wake up in the quietest moments, look around in surprise, and then gently close his eyes again.

Father’s longest and most lucid phase of wakefulness came just before the interval, by which time Wife was concentrating hard on her Blackberry. She had switched to her old tactic of screening out any sensory input from the film by clearing important official mail that would require her full attention.

In what I’m sure was the defining scene of the film, when the ghost seemed like winning, Father woke up. He woke up because his cell was playing Carnatic music at a decibel level higher than that of his snores. He then did something nobody – neither me nor Wife – expected: he took the call. And started saying things like, “I told that idiot not to get involved with that woman …no, no, I am in a cinema hall….HELLO….can you hear me? HELLO…HELLO?”

I tried to snatch the phone from him. But he turned away, signaling to me that it was an important call, and he kept talking, and wouldn’t go out of the hall. What was most bizarre — nobody objected. Even as I sank deeper into my seat in shame and mortification, our neighbours gave him indulgent glances. Perhaps they were shit scared by the movie and welcomed the intrusion of reality into the world of make-believe. Wife, who usually lost no time pouncing on any ‘cell phone loonies’ couldn’t stop grinning.

Well, it all seems so predictable now — but my eloquent appeals to reason and the logic of paisa vasool didn’t work. Wife didn’t want to go back after the interval: “Let’s watch it at home – you can mute it when it gets too much.” Father clearly saw no reason to go back. “Not a bad film,” he said, “but how can anyone sleep with all that noise?”

The burden of the married man

In Lifestyle, Relationships, Trends, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 10:23 am

G Sampath | Saturday, October 15, 2011

First published in DNA

I am a married man, but I believe marriage is not for everyone, which is not something everyone believes. So any time I advice a friend against getting married, it is taken as a comment on my own marriage — people tend to assume that I must have an unhappy marriage, for why else would I advise my friend not to marry? But as I said, marriage is not for everyone — marrying because you are expected to or because all your peers are doing so is possibly the worst reason anyone can have to get married.
But all the time one sees people, especially girls, getting married for exactly those reasons. And quite a few of them end up in unhappy marriages, when they could have had far more fulfilling lives if they had never married. While many manage to make their peace with the institution, basically by lowering their expectations from the relationship, and losing themselves in bringing up their children, some women tend to store up a big drum of resentment in their hearts that breaks open and spills its toxic contents once the children have grown up and moved out and the husband has retired.
Some resentment is inevitable, for marriage is nearly always a losing proposition for women (Go ahead, deny that you are in denial!). In the less than perfect matches, they are beaten, abused, raped, burnt for dowry, and suffer harassment at the hands of in-laws. But even in the so-called ‘happy’ marriages where none of the traditional atrocities are inflicted on them, women somehow end up with the bulk of the responsibility in running the household.
Ironically, though it is women who are likely to come off worse, they are the ones who generally take the lead in prodding the relationship towards matrimony, while men tend to find marriage a most threatening idea. Of course, not in all cases is the threat perception justified — it depends on the man, and the woman.
Nevertheless, every man who has ever married would remember waking up with a sinking feeling the morning after the evening he had proposed (or was manipulated into proposing) matrimony to his girl and she said yes. It feels like your heart went under water for a few, lengthy seconds. You come back up into the cold air of reality coughing and spluttering, and feeling less dead than before.
Last week at a party, when the discussion turned to how so many of our friends were ‘already divorced,’ I remarked casually that we should carry our marriages ‘lightly’. Later, on the drive back home, my wife asked me if I felt burdened by our marriage.
That being a potential landmine question, I answered carefully.
“Marriages, like all institutions, are heavy,” I said. “A marriage is like Iridium. Very heavy.”
“You are wrong,” she said. “It is not marriage that’s weighing you down.”
“Then what is?”
“The idea of masculinity.”
I said I didn’t think my masculinity or whatever had anything to do with it. But she went on to explain her hypothesis.According to her, the real burden weighing me (and all my male friends, in case you are reading this) down are the stereotypes of masculinity. Stereotypes that I have internalised, feel compelled to live up to, and feel inadequate if I can’t.
I asked her what stereotypes she was referring to. “You’ll find every one of them in a magazine like GQ,” she said.
“But I am not a regular reader of GQ.” It didn’t matter, she said. Men sort of absorb these values by atmospheric osmosis. And they absorb it from the men they admire, or are taught to admire.
And what are these stereotypes? She rattled them off. The first cliché of masculinity, of course, being that marriage itself is uncool, and reflective of low GQ — unless you are married to a supermodel who is rich, has the brains of a Nobel laureate, and the wisdom to acknowledge, with sufficient subtlety, your right to do whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, with whomever you want.
But in case you are unfortunate enough to be married to a woman who doesn’t fulfil the above criteria, then god forbid that you should enjoy her company, and under no circumstances are you allowed to prefer her company to that of male friends, for that is as uncool as it gets in the macho stakes. From the marital perspective, there is just one saving grace about the GQ man: fatherhood is cool.
Apart from that, the fabled freedom of unfettered manhood that men dream about is basically the freedom to chase women, booze, cars, gadgets, sports channels, and whatever else they want to without the sobering effects of a wife or marriage — the role of a wife or marriage being, essentially, the sobering role.
This is the GQ burden of masculinity that every man carries into his marriage, and so long as his ego is constructed around it, he believes that it is his marriage that is weighing him down, summed up my wife.
I’ve been mulling over her theory, and I haven’t decided yet if she is right, but I don’t think I’ll admit it to her even if she is.

When it comes to vacations, the departure is the destination

In Lifestyle, Relationships, Uncategorized, Wife on March 30, 2012 at 10:16 am

G Sampath | Saturday, September 17, 2011

First published in DNA
Every time I am on holiday, I am faced with a dilemma: should I spend my time reading, or ‘exploring’ the place I happen to be visiting? This question becomes more complicated if I’m travelling with someone inherently restless, someone who finds it hard work to remain immobile in one place with a book. Someone like my wife.
And it becomes even more complicated if you’ve spent good money to travel to the holiday destination. “How do you get ‘paisa vasool’ on the travel expenses if all you want to do is sit in a room and read a book?” is a question I’m faced with time and again.
My own counter to this is: “What’s the point of being on holiday if I can’t read the books that I don’t get the time to read when I am not on holiday?” Or, what is the point of a holiday if it has to be spent in activities that stress you out — such as stepping out of the hotel, or shopping, or being in a vertical position? Pushed to a corner, I play my trump card: “What’s the point of being on holiday if I can’t do whatever I want?”
To which, my wife’s response is: “Why travel thousands of kilometres, to a place full of natural beauty, only to shut yourself up in a room with a book?” Yes, I say, we could have stayed at home for the duration of the holiday. Apparently, there is even a term for it: ‘staycation’.
Indeed, a ‘staycation’ has many advantages over a conventional vacation. Its chief merit is that it’s the cheapest vacation anyone can have: no expenditure on plane or train tickets, no getting ripped off by taxi drivers, food is home-cooked, and accommodation is ‘free’. You also save yourself from the economic obligation to ‘go out and explore’ the place you’re holidaying in, since you’ve spent nothing to arrive at your holiday destination.
So I try to convince my wife that the ultimate holiday destination is home — which, I am told, is also the profound truth discovered by Santiago, the hero of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. But while Santiago realises it only after many years of travelling, I was born with that insight.
But alas, my insight, like that of other thinkers who are ahead of their times, is wasted on minds whose conception of ‘travel’ involves boring tasks like packing suitcases, waiting in queue to be publicly groped (not that private groping would be an improvement), and taking pictures of oneself in different surroundings. Not to forget shopping, for things that are ‘local’. If I happen to be in Mexico, I cannot not buy some native Indian artefacts — even if all of them come with a label that says ‘Made in China’, which is where all ‘indigenous’ crafts are manufactured these days.
But despite these irrefutable arguments about the existential futility of being a tourist, we never take a ‘staycation’. My wife, as usual, comes up with a Brahmastra that burns my objections to cinders — the need to get away. There is no getting away from the need to get away.
Daily life in a city is so stressful that it wears us down, psychologically as much as physically. And travelling on holiday is nothing but an escape — not an escape to, as much as an escape from. What is important is not the destination, not even the journey, but the departure. Go elsewhere, anywhere, as long as it is not within walking distance from this wonderful but terrible city where we live and work and commute and buy groceries.
I suspect this is the reason why most otherwise sensible people who have no interest in travelling become tourists. I am not talking here of people who travel because they love travelling — a lot of people think they love travelling but they don’t. They just want to ‘have travelled’. Or get away. They are the ones targeted, and rightly so, by the tourism industry, whose ‘packages’ convert entire nations and cities and landscapes into conveniently consumable morsels known as ‘destinations’.
So, confronted with this indisputable need to ‘get away’, I give in. We pack our suitcases and get out of Mumbai. But after checking into the hotel, when faced with the prospect of having to trudge out to some lake/monastery/market/garden/cave, I prefer to escape into my own private holiday destination: an 800-page novel by an author I love.