Checkmate

Last night I dreamt you were an ant.

I always liked the idea of a magnifying glass

over an ant in August.

I was reading the scientific american

-Of which I am neither-

of how Broca’s Area lets you talk

and Wernicke’s lets you comprehend.

So I was swirling my finger in my coffee

(I know how you hate that)

And I was thinking

Its a funny thing how without Broca’s Area

I would never have to say I love you too.

I always say it like an actress on the sixteenth

take cuz the kid won’t cry on cue

and I would never have to again.

For God’s sake I dont always need the last word!

I love you- I love you too! Ha! Gotcha.

Somethin to prove.

Love you too! Checkmate.

Why can’t we let the chicken marinate?

Its shake and bake every other time

Just once I want to see your words become smoke

suspended in fog

 

And since I’m choosing

losing my wernicke’s area isnt a bad deal.

I would never even know you loved me

You could say it again and again like the car ride back

from the picture show in the rain when I found out

you could say it and I wouldn’t understand.

 

You could say it and I wouldn’t understand.

 

 

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The Elephant In Yash Chopra’s Casting Office

The Indian film industry influences the beliefs and direction of its society in a way no other film industry affects its people. Sure there are thongs of fans awaiting celebrities at every red carpet event in the US but the relationship between Indian cinema goers and indian actors is closer to worship than mere fandom. When a popular south Indian movie star by the name of Rajinikanth came on the scene 40 years ago with his over the top stunts that defied all the laws of physics, catchphrases and unique style of comedy, people were enthralled. He has since made 150 films, all of which run for months in theatres. And his effect on people is as powerful and manic as it was forty years ago, as he continues to sell out theatres today. In fact hundeds of temples have been made for the purpose of worshipping Rajinikanth, for he is literally seen as a God. With this sort of intense and loyal public, it is safe to say Bollywood runs india.
And with that, the travesty that is the socio-political climate of Indian Cinema is as ongoing and far-reaching an issue as the rest of India’s social issues (castes, dowry, etc) that it are impossible to narrow down into a concise thesis statement. However I will still try. There are some cancerous, deepseated and completely untouched problems in Bollywood; 1) the internalized racism and widespread misoginy of Indians resulting in the importing of actresses from foreign countries to play brownface and 2) the rampant nepotism of actors, directors and producers who prevent any unknown talented actors from working their way into the untouchable monarchy that is Bollywood. And the mother of all of these issues is that no one in the industry seems to recognize that there even is a problem. The latter is a much scarier thought.
To be fair, the internalized racism thing was a problem in the 90s way before the introduction of Katrina Kaif and her seemingly never-ending list of clones (Zareen Khan, Nargis Fakhri, you know the type). The notion that lighter skintones are more desirable for women have existed for centuries in India and probably got even worse with the reign of the British Raj. In 1994, the famous deleted opening scene of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge starts with Kajol’s mother lamenting about her daughter’s dusky skin because she fears for her marriage prospects as a result. And the nuptual rituals of rubbing turmeric and milk all over the bride prior to her wedding day to brighten her skintone go back to the Mughal era. Perhaps it was inevitable that the familiar indian heroine archetype has always remained the same since its advent in the 40s: fairskinned to the point of being mistaken for a caucasian woman, black hair, full lips and an innate desire to exist solely for the purpose of moving the hero’s plotline forward. While there is nothing wrong with a fair-skinned indian woman (a very small percentage of indians are naturally fair skinned), there is something unusual about the complete lack of actresses with dark complexions in Bollywood; a disgusting racist trend that has persisted since the inception of the film industry. Even more, there is some blatant misogyny to go along with the aforementioned phenomenon; they almost never apply to men. For instance in the last ten or so years that Bollywood has been recruiting and training foreign white women to pretend to be Indian, they have never ONCE brought in foreign men. And although every single Bollywood lead woman has been very fair-skinned, only some male leads have been fair-skinned, while the rest have other skintones prevalent in India. The message reads loud and clear: White women are better at portraying indian women than indian women, AND indian men are perfect the way they are. Summed up even further; Indian women are not good enough.
So not only do you have manic pixie dream girls that dont look or behave anything like the average Indian woman, but you have men (hrithik roshan types barred) who more or less look like your average Indian man. (and sometimes not even very handsome; ajay devgan, sunil shetty , SANJAY DUTT FOR GODS SAKES. Give me one indian lead actress that is equal in unattractiveness to Sanjay Dutt and I’ll gladly revoke my argument.) So now you have the fleet of uncharacteristically fair-skinned actresses, in recent times not even Indian (genetically or nationality-wise), who cannot speak the native language, whose characters rarely pass the bechdel test, and still, the list of problems continues. These “actresses” are rarely even really actresses by merit. The majority of these girls, who by the way are exclusively filling lead heroine roles so they start at the top while indian film graduates start of as extras, are models. Models who have no prior acting experience and I repeat, literally do not speak Hindi while working in an industry that makes Hindi language films. Moreover, tens of thousands of dollars are spent on their acting lessons, hindi lessons and on making them look Indian. (I seriously doubt Katrina Kaif was born with jet black hair or that indian accent despite growing up in London). Even more money is spent on hiring voice actresses to dub their lines when the Hindi inevitably comes out botched. This part is what really makes my blood boil because this is literally asking real Indian women with real talent to hide behind the screen and act while white women in brownface are who the audience sees and who get all the credit. Here’s a suggestion. How about hiring literally the tens of thousands of actors churned out by India’s film schools each year who have become actors based on merit and not family name or the color of their skin. it seems like such a basic lesson everyone learned in kindergarten. And indians individually are not archaic in their approach to race issues, at least everyone who is educated knows never to judge or promote anyone based solely on the color of their skin. So why as a society do we continue to fund billion dollar skin lightening industries such as Fair And Lovely and watch movies we barely relate to acted out by women who arent even from our country?

One would think seemingly revolutionary and intelligent actor/directors such as Aamir Khan would pick up on this phenomenon and include a diverse cast in his movies. After all he is extremely selective about the scripts he chooses, doing only one movie every 4 or so years. The movies he does get involved with always seem to have a very obvious moralistic message, so he is not one to shy away from teaching the country a lesson when it needs one. Khan even has his own talkshow called “Satyamev Jayate” that exists to highlight our beautiful culture while honoring those who have faced social adversity and come out the other end. And when he does get involved in politics, cinema related or otherwise, Khan always seems to come out on the “woke” side of things, defending issues with a thought process that seems like it would be in line with stomping out India’s rampant internalized racism and misoginy. However in every one of these movies, the same whitewashed archetype of actors and actresses is used and no progress is made. In his most recent groundbreaking moralistic film PK, the ultimate message of the movie was to treat all people fairly and equally regardless of their religion. So why and how on earth could this message not cross over to race and the color of one’s skin? It seems like a natural transition; treat everyone the same regardless of religion, race, SKIN COLOR. However in many of his films, he is the main character around which the story revolves, and the heroine is another plot device (Kareena Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Katrina Kaif, etc) who looks nothing like the average indian woman and whose character only exists to serve Aamir Khan’s.
The worst part of all of these issues is they are not at all recognized in India and there is no dialogue happening among the population. Rather, all of the bollywood news outlets and journalists focus on very superficial issues limited to either the promotion of a film or tabloid-worthy details of the actors’ lives. When it does get serious at all, the only topic the indian media and members of bollywood talk about is the craft of acting. Keep in mind, the people talking about this sacred, meticulous “craft of acting” are either products of nepotism who never audition for anything or white foreign models who can’t speak Hindi. It is ridiculous to watch Karan Johar and established female journalists like Anupama Chopra talk at length about the process of acting in such a high minded and technical manner and apply none of those skills to the real issues: the rights and representation of india and indians through cinema. It is an utter waste for indian media to not use their platform to ask the leaders of bollywood these crucial questions. The solution to this problem begins by shifting the paradigm of indian media and creating a space where talking about these issues is not viewed as a ratings-killer but is something that gets the indian audience even more engaged with Bollywood. In fact, the solution is the Indian audience. We vote with our movie tickets and our views and we should not give either of those away to films that do not represent our stories or our people. All we have is our unique reaction to our Heroes and Heroines. And in Bollywood, that’s all you need to make a change.

quickie

flimsy skirts in the fall for gooseflesh thighs

for the boy on the bus gall of

the hens next door to gawk at

our quick gasps in the elevator hot

breath.

sweet.

tongues.

a steamy mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opulence

The Radiator hums a lullaby

and spins a spoonful of lies

I surmise.

The deadly gods of fashion want

their  plush fabric back

they have a gala in Hell

to attend.

Difficult diamonds spill from

every river into my mouth

waiting for the dream man

to claim them

and me

Red Wine Sings to Me

Red wine sings to me

like my mother never did

velvet whitenoise

like my heater in August

 

I open my mouth but only moonlight

stumbles out

dissolving into shadows

then tall savanna grass

and then a lion.

 

I dont remember when I died

But the sun was warm and bright.

 

 

 

 

 

Moana

This was a special one. This film is, like most Disney movies, about the protagonist’s quest to find herself involving an unlikely adventure and save the world. But unlike most Disney films, who star a super-special-snowflake who is

The Chosen One

There is a moment where Moana loses herself. She gives up. She tells the powers that be that they must choose another to complete the task at hand and they accept without conquest. There is no pep talk insisting that she is the only one in the universe who can save the world or that she is more special than anyone else, no prophecy she has no control over, no superpowers separating her from the common man. Rather, she realizes she must choose to take on this challenge, even though there might be many more people equally qualified. There are no sidekicks begging her to go on as she cries on “why me”; for once she is not some reluctant hero. She does not accidentally solve everyone’s problems because she is just born to be a savior. No. She simply realizes

she must choose herself.

Nomads

“Aw shit. We’re out of beers,” the old man said. He swung his neck back, shook the remaining few drops of booze into his gullet, and chucked the crushed tin over the terrace onto thousands of zombies. They swarmed around the beer can expecting human flesh. Then; a collective grumble after realizing it was inanimate. “Ah quit moanin’, you’ll have fresh meat once ya bust that door down.” The man spit over the terrace at the groaning mass, and slumped back into his lawn chair, adjusting his rifle. He was out of breath from the ten foot walk from the edge of the terrace to his seat. He was appalled at how he had gone from being a war hero in ‘Nam to waddling around like a three hundred pound penguin with ketchup stains on his shirt. He hoped to God he wasn’t a burden to his dear nephew. On second thought what could God do for his dear nephew, who didn’t even believe in Him? He sighed for what would become of Jesse’s soul after the zombies got them.
Almost in reaction to his uncle’s thoughts, “Aw come on Uncle Shane don’t give up just yet. I just finished nailing those boards up, no way they’ll get in now.” Jesse said. Shane picked up an orange cloth and began wiping down his rifle as gently as a mother would wipe her newborn’s buttocks. Hunched over the weapon, Shane said “I ever tell you about this rifle son?” He had. Umpteen times, Jesse had heard about his triumphant veteran uncle jumping into a yurt in a Cambodian Village to save a little native girl from a landmine that would have gone off if it wasn’t for his lucky Browning Auto-5. Landmines everywhere else in the village had gone off killing hundreds but where his beloved Browning was, no siree, the landmine was miraculously dead. According to his uncle, this had happened several times. A trip wire was stepped on by a fellow soldier and just when the proverbial shit was to hit the fan, it didn’t; Shane was wearing the Browning. A Khmer Rouge soldier had a gun ready to shoot into his uncle’s profusely sweating forehead and as the trigger was pulled, there was an empty click and two very confused soldiers. Shane quickly emptied the Browning into the Cambodian before soiling himself. Jesse had heard many such variants of the same story, never knowing which to believe, if any. He ran a hand through his curly mat of hair and looked out into the fading sunlight. Once the sun went down, the zombies owned the world and had every advantage over them. He spun around to face his uncle and conceded,
“Look Uncle Shane, there’s a real chance those zombies are gonna break the door down. We need a plan.”.
Shane abruptly stopped cleaning his rifle and tilted his head in disbelief. “Now ain’t that what I been tellin ya since those maggots done ran into town from every which way?”
Sure, Jesse thought, it’s what you’ve been saying since right after you shot that damn Browning of yours into the sky. “A soldier’s salute to our new home” Shane had drunkenly slurred before thrusting his rifle into the air and before Jesse could stop him, the deafening shot had gone off and Jesse’s heart sank. The gunshot meant to celebrate this new haven they’d found high above the infested streets of Atlanta would ironically be the end of them. The noise had attracted every zombie in a five mile radius and although they were high above the streets, there was no way out if the rotting things found their way inside the building. No way to escape and get supplies which they were already out of, courtesy of his portly uncle’s eating habits. In the sweltering Southern heat, they wouldn’t last another day. The only saving grace would be the CDC helicopters they saw circling back in Abel Township three months ago. Wishful thinking of course, seeing as the CDC thought the state was cleared after their makeshift town was overrun. They were the only survivors, Jesse and Shane. Nomads now, in a world where staying alive was all the average person thought about. Not that there were other people still living in this sad excuse for a world.
Shane of course, was thinking of his precious gun. And probably about how his soul was sure to be stuck in purgatory when he died. Apparently, if the dead have inherited the earth and you’re still alive, it means judgement day came and left you behind which invalidates your ticket into heaven. Jesse scoffed at his uncle’s primitive beliefs. He didn’t believe in all that nonsense, he was a proud atheist. He also didn’t believe in luck or karma or any of that hippy dippy shit the kids these days came up with to absolve themselves of their foolish antics. In his thirty-eight years of life, Jesse Sinclair had learned that you got what you wanted by working for it, and if shit happened to you well that’s life. Jesse gazed distantly out at the horizon. He removed his prescription glasses and polished the dust off of the frames with the edge of his now faded Armani button down shirt. He passed a thumb over the engraving on one of the arms of the shades and chuckled nostalgically. “Michael Kors” it proudly read. It was the first of many brand-name items he had gotten before becoming obsessed with showing off his law degree in any way possible.
Sophia had gotten him those glasses after he made partner at the firm, although she didn’t know the first thing about the brands he always went on about. She would always smirk at him when he rambled excitedly about Gucci this and Vitton that. Hours would go by talking and cooking in the million dollar kitchen he had gotten built for her. She’d be chopping something and Jesse would hop up on the counter and go on and on about the shit he could buy with his next bonus. Soph barely ever got a word in, but in between stirs of a steaming pot or chops of a zucchini, she’d look up and laugh at his immaturity. It was a beautiful sound that always took his breath away.
She would joke that maybe she was just a trophy wife too, a law degree with a pretty smile. Every time she made this joke he’d wrap an arm around her waist and pull her towards him. “Soph, you know I love you more than any of this money. Right? I like to show off that’s all.” He would kiss her forehead and brush the hair out her face. She would smile and shake her head as if to say “what do I do with you?” They spent many a night on a terrace like this one, drinking 1951 Port with John and Molly, other Wesleyan Law survivors. They would drink under the stars as they went on about the cars they would add to their collections. They sounded like complete douchebags and they knew it. So what? At least money was tangible, dependable. There is no amount of praying that will get you what a million dollars could get you. And plus, Jesse thought, if God really existed, Sophia wouldn’t have gone out the way she did. An image of bloody intestines smeared across kitchen tile flashed through his mind and Jesse clenched his jaw.
There was scratching and groaning at the terrace door. Maybe it was John and Molly coming over for dinner. He suddenly remembered that the world had ended and his friends would not come over to drink and brag about their new Ferrari. He chuckled nervously at the ridiculous thought.
For a moment Jesse was overcome with desperation and felt like praying to whatever Shane believed existed above those orange and pink wisps of sky. He had stared at the sun for too long and when he looked back at Shane, spots of blue littered his vision. He rubbed his eyes in annoyance and put his Kors back on.
“Uncle Shane I think that damn rifle of yours might do us some good after all.” Shane stopped polishing the Browning and looked up with at Jesse with understanding; a type of tacit agreement that had never occurred between the two men, usually worlds apart in their thinking. The rhythm of the scratching got faster and the door was trembling now. The things had made their way up the stairs and were banging their dead fists against the terrace door like they were drowning and there was air on the other side.
The lethargic groans had turned to angry shrieks. Shane rose out of the lawn chair and wiped the sweat off his forehead. He gingerly handed the rifle over to his nephew. With a swift soldier’s movement, the old veteran suddenly stood up stick straight. It almost comical on his short, pear-like frame. He saluted his nephew proudly. Jesse saluted the old man back, looked up at the door as a bloody hand burst through the weak wooden boards, and shot his Uncle Shane in the head. Shane wore the proud expression on his face as he fell flat on his back, still stick-straight as a corpse. Jesse looked at the sunset until the blue spots came back and positioned the barrel under his chin. “Long live the Browning,” he said and began to pull down on the trigger.
“STOP! HEY STOP!” Jesse’s body went numb at the sound of a human voice and let the rifle hit the floor. He shuffled to the edge of the building, a man was getting out of a helicopter stationed on a terrace a few buildings down. He must not have heard the helicopter over the shrieks of every zombie in the state shuffling in the direction of the Browning’s dinner bell. “We heard your gunshot while we were circling the area! Woulda passed straight o’er Atlanta if ya hadn’t signaled us! We’re comin to get ya son, you stay right there!” Jesse dropped to his knees. A sinking feeling grew in the pit of his belly.
The man on the other terrace was filling the tank on the helicopter and Jesse was told to pack his things in the meantime. But how could Jesse explain to the man that even after three months surviving on their own, he had no things? He had had beer but that was gone. He had an Uncle who was gone too. At least he had his Kors, Jesse chuckled. And the Browning too. Jesse thought about what Soph would say about mercy killing his Uncle. “Maybe he was always a trophy. Dead weight and a Browning for protection” He heard her laugh reverberate through his chest. He had not allowed himself to think about Sophia for too long since a zombie shred her in their own kitchen until she looked like her famous barbeque pulled pork. Jesse and his wife were preparing their usual Sunday brunch when one of them burst through their door and Jesse grabbed a knife and he had not meant to but he was flustered and he had turned around and the knife had buried itself into his wife’s gut and Soph was dead before she hit the floor. He had forgotten what the news had said about how everyone comes back no matter how you died. The disease was in the air and everyone was already exposed. And after Jesse had pushed the zombie away and got ready to run out of the house, the thing had gotten his wife and she had turned and her beautiful brown eyes were green now and the zombie, unaware that she was now undead, continued to shred her like pork on their granite countertop where Soph had a rule not to prepare meat, only vegetables.
Jesse felt a lion dig his fangs into his jugular and rip out a chunk of his neck. It was not a lion, it was his Uncle and he had vomit-green eyes.