Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The retro connection - Norah Ephron and our lives

Bangalore is hot these days. So hot that all you can enjoy doing is alternate between reading a book and sipping on water/juice in a cool corner at your home. With no such luck favoring me, I managed to read an eBook slumped across my desk at office when everyone else was taking two hour lunch breaks followed by an hour of smoke break. (I suspect they go home and rest in that cool corner). Of course, no one suspects me because I had my eyes on the computer screen all the time.

Norah Ephron’s I feel bad about my neck and other thoughts on being a woman isn’t what I would call my ideal read. Hell no. After all, who wants to read about one’s obsession with one’s neck? So after parking this book for a week on my desktop, I finally managed to read it. For those who did not know (and that included me before I read the last page of the book), Norah Ephron wrote the screenplays for some of the films I like - When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail.

What I discovered in her memoirs was profound.

The book details Norah’s experiences in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Forty years on, there is a strange sense of déjà vu as many of my friends seem to be experiencing life the way she did.

1. The obsession with foreign/ exotic cooking: Norah’s obsession (and probably that of other women in that era) with French cooking is reflective of India’s current obsession with cooking Italian food and baking. The rising number Nigella Lawson and Master Chef Australia fans, plus the rising TRPs of food shows is testament to this. I find some of my friends cooking seven course meals for friends “who just dropped by.” Seeing them I am tempted to throw in the towel right away and settle for the good old curd rice. Just like Norah settling with the Lee Bailey style of cooking – whatever one is comfortable with.

2. Maintenance woes: I am not talking about the money that we shell out every month to ensure that running water, power backed up electricity and clean corridors are a reality in our apartment complexes. I am talking about personal grooming and care (what most husbands will call “waste of time” or “Shoo-shah”). It makes me mad that I don’t look like the Fair n Lovely before and after images whenever I am done with whatever I do. Blame it on outsourcing, cheap prices, and plain laziness. I think our mothers did good with their use of homemade beauty products and no, they did not know about manicure.

In recent times the only youngish woman who I have seen with less than perfect hands is my domestic help (apart from me that is). Even my baby sitter has a 30 minute routine every Saturday morning for doing up her nails. I am dreading the day my two year old daughter asks me to do up hers. No, it’s not the money and time that will be spent on this. I just don’t know how to do them!

3. Renting houses: Norah rationalizes her whopping rental amount as “the price paid for one cappuccino every day for 10 years.” We do it by saying “it’s only half my salary and I need I decent place to live.” An acquaintance recently bought a 3300 sqft house from an upmarket builder for at least Rs 3 Crores. I don’t know what her rationale could have possibly been, but I don’t have the heart to tell her that she won’t be able to clean the house when the maid won’t show up. Perhaps it’s better to live amidst filth, especially if there is 3300 sqft of it. I will never know.

There are many other parallels one can draw from the book but this is not a book review. What amazes me is that our lives are no different from those of people a few decades ago, despite the whole lot of advancements that have come our way. It signifies that the human spirit is indomitable and irrespective of socio-economic-cultural statuses our desires are similar.