the essential internet/ 43

Can we please stop being competitive about work hours? It’s pointless and stupid

Salt Fat Acid Heat author and star of an excellent Netflix show of the same name Samin Nosrat is SO relatable in this interview about her approach to  eating. “I did learn early on in my office life… that if I eat lunch out every day it’s really bad news and that often I can’t get anything done the second half of the day because I’m just digesting.

If you’ve ever slogged it out in a hostel you will love this show. Actor Srishti Shrivastava is effortlessly funny and also a Very Cool Person, as evidenced by this hilarious clip of her during a family Sundarkaand paath . I also love how she fashuns 

I’m still coming to terms with my depression, an intense, debilitating phase that lasted nearly half a decade. Sometimes it feels like I’m not past it completely, that I’m standing at the curling, rotting edges of something joyless and sinister and ancient, something pulling so strongly and primally it takes quite an effort to walk away. Other times it feels like a Dementor’s just brushed past me, leaching my world of color and happiness for entire minutes, altering the space around me to an aqueous consistency so everything seems still, slow, alien, leaving me numb and unable to function in the moment. I have to shake myself out out of it like a puppy just out of his bathwater. This particular episode is my favorite from among an entire series on depression. It talks about why depression is different from sadness, and how to tell if you or someone you love are depressed

Christian pop is a thing, and I LOVE it. Okay, some of it

Image- Saira Banu in my top choice of attire for shaadi season. The gharara/ sharara is a relic from 19th century Avadh, where it was worn by Muslim brides. The kurti hugs the waist snugly and makes for a pleasing visual counterpoint to the vast, airy farshi pajamas that spill and swish like sea foam around the axis of your body. Copious amounts of gota and zardozi are used to weight the garment and give it heft. Contemporary versions experiment with all kinds of fabric- cotton and chanderi are personal favorites- and cinch the pajamas a little way above the knee for a more impactful flare, making the whole thing an insanely comfortable alternative to its silhouette cousin, the lehenga

psst! r u a leader-y grl?

One day in an informal meeting about possible external partnerships, I recommended a friend and former senior colleague who I thought made the cut. Over several follow- up meetings I suggested more names, being careful to clarify that I could vouch for them precisely because I’d worked with them. For some reason this irked a male colleague, who cornered me later asking why ‘you feel the need to drop names, like, constantly‘. He was a very nice guy, and he looked pissed. He wasn’t leading the partnership discussions in any way, nor was he central to them. This made his aggressive little sideshow unwarranted. It just wasn’t okay for a woman to do what men do all the time- in meetings, on smoke breaks, on drunken outbounds, in the middle of rambling, fantastical, delusional conversations about ‘growing the business’.  It’s called networking, or leveraging your connections. Men throw names and scenarios at each other a lot, but of course that didn’t matter. It never does.

A friend rising with warp speed at her workplace while in her early twenties has similar stories. When picked by the boss for a task that could catapult her to national fame (it did ), his number two, the natural choice for the job, felt the need to give her ‘advice’. Here, read this book, he said solicitously, you need it. You can’t do this if you’re not well read. He was insinuating that she didn’t deserve the position. He’d taken decades and an expensive degree to get there himself, and we all know there’s no coping mechanism like showing a newbie her place with good old- fashioned passive- aggression. If that newbie is a woman, the job is infinitely easier. A whole host of efficient tools lie at your disposal- gaslighting, obfuscating, out- shouting, appropriating credit.

This is not to say women don’t make problematic colleagues or bosses. But it seems to me that terrible men are tolerated far more than terrible women are. Even perfectly nice women behaving like men ordinarily do get called the most vicious, most reductive names- Bitch. Cunt. Whore. While men enjoy the twin advantages of institutionalised leeway and gender solidarity, women turn into self- doubting wrecks if they’re not careful.

So when heroes like Sheryl Sandberg tell these women, all women, to toughen up and lean in, it sounds less like good advice and more like victim blaming. Her book gets it mostly wrong. She attributes workplace fails to women’s feminine, deferential behaviour, to their politeness and to their silence, to their softness and to the way they balk at working weekends or ‘tough jobs’. To her, women are overlooked for leadership roles not only because they don’t know how to ask for a seat at the table, but also because they don’t want it bad enough. Guess who’s always been telling women they aren’t good enough, Ms. Sandberg, explaining their own feelings to them, infantilizing them? Men. And women like yourself, who forget their place and their privilege. Ornery women’s workplace problems can and never will be solved, as you suggest, by women being less women-y.  Blaming the women is like telling the tortoise she’s set up for inevitable failure against the hare because she’s slow and stupid, not because the race is rigged. To Ms. Sandberg’s credit, she’s acknowledged that the Here underachieving sister, let me show you how it’s done slant of her book was a bad choice. Her apologies are too little too late; for the half- decade since its publication the book’s been telling women how they must behave in the workplace in the most damaging way possible

This is why I LOVE Sarah Cooper’s funny, relatable, cleverly illustrated riff on the corporate self help genre, How To Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings: Non Threatening Leadership Strategies For Women. She does not discuss women’s issues in the apologetic, exasperated, patronising tone employed by the likes of Sandberg. Instead this former Googler makes grim jokes about the toxic bro culture in Silicon Valley, turning the heat on the men who benefit from the too- nice, accommodating women around them. Whether you’re working at a tech startup or at one of the OGs, or are pitching your baby business to a VC, you’re very likely to find yourself in tragicomic situations that test every last drop of your self esteem. Nothing’s good enough- not your undeniable competence, not your proven successes, not even the full force of your very likeable personality. Cooper’s solution is to give us three moustache stickers- maybe go wearing one and you’ll fool them into thinking the opposite of what they thought of you. 

My favorite section of the book is on Gaslighting. The term comes from a 1930’s play called Gas Light, in which a malicious husband successfully drives his wife mad. Every night he takes off to plunder the empty flat upstairs, the treasures of a dead rich lady. Switching the lights on there causes all the gas- powered lights in the building to dim just a little bit, enough to be noticeable but also enough for plausible deniability. When his wife asks if the lights seem dimmer, he affects bafflement. Every night he climbs the stairs to steal, every night the lights dim, every night he feigns ignorance. Soon his wife begins to doubt her eyesight and goes insane. In excellent clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula’s book Should I Stay Or Should I Go? – Surviving A Relationship With A Narcissist , ‘Gaslighting qualifies as a form of emotional abuse that involves denying a person’s experience and making statements, such as “that never happened”, “you’re too sensitive”, or “this isn’t that big a deal”. It tends to happen gradually over time, and it leaves you feeling as though you are slowly going crazy. The gaslighter uses techniques such as withholding or stonewalling (“I don’t want to hear that again”), contradicting (telling you that you do not recall something correctly) and diversion… he also minimizes your feelings (“How could you be upset about such a little thing?”) and denies events that definitely occurred (“I never did that”). The damage of gaslighting is that it is confusing, isolating and often results in you questioning your own reality. The doubt seeps into all areas of your life…(it) fills you with… second-guessing… you may find yourself chronically apologising and no longer as relaxed and joyful as you once were.’ Cooper turns the heat on shitty gaslighters with a fun Gaslighting Defence Worksheet, a reminder to all women that our opinions, no matter how easily shot down or dismissed as silly, matter.

Sure, most women are hesitant negotiators. We’re uncomfortable voicing our reservations. We overthink the sort of things men vomit without a thought. We’re guarded, we’re brittle from constantly sidestepping exploding egos, we’re exhausted from our double shifts of managing domestic and professional expectations. A lot of us are hanging by a thread. We are this way not because of a personal lack, but because our gendered upbringing spills over into our professional lives- how can it not?- and because the ecosystem rewards and incentivizes peak brohavior. Unsurprisingly there are no books telling women to play to their strengths. No one’s teaching us how to value and cherish our most essential traits to success-  softness, intuition, the ability to drive consensus without unnecessary conflict. To be feminine in the workplace is to be wrong. It is to be primed for failure. Cooper will have us know that Sandberg and her ilk, with all their reams of data, are dead mistaken. If you’re a woman, chances are that you will face unpleasantness no matter what you do or how you present, so the best thing to do at work is to cultivate two things- an invincible sense of humor and solid female friendships. This way, when you’re boss, no woman on your team’s going to have to come in wearing a stick- on handlebar. 

Gift this book to a friend or colleague who’s been having a shitty time at work, and have fun snickering at the stickers and worksheets. I made the mistake of reading it while snacking on an orange; do you know what OJ can do if it gets inside your nose? It can hurt. Like a bitch a male colleague who casually takes the credit for your work and acts offended when you point it out. And that is why you need this book in your life. 

the essential internet/ 42

sarika

Ah perfectionism, that ole’ interview humblebrag. It’s actually a pretty damaging quality to have if you’re not careful. This excellent piece examines ‘three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, or a desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or a desire to live up to others’ expectations; and other-oriented, or holding others to unrealistic standards.’

THE best, most realistically achievable makeup tutorial I’ve seen in a while. I love Halima Aden

Why Top <number> Under <number> lists are silly, and why it’s sensible to have shifting goalposts

Yes- there is such a thing as leaving a job you love. I’ve done it. The key thing to remember is to respect your reasons and not question your past self

Nupur Pant’s lovely, melancholic reprise of Kiven Mukhde Ton Nazraan Hataavaan has been looping on my AirPods since forever. This sitar- heavy cover is also quite something

Image- Actor Sarika wearing the sort of bindi that’s fast disappearing from the desi sartorial landscape. Roughly the size of the new one Rupee coin and associated most with actor Rekha, the large-ish maroon bindi makes an appearance only at weddings. On the other hand, smaller, subtler versions abound- the little black dot, the discreet single crystal,  shrunken stick-on versions of popular Indian textile and architectural motifs like the ambi and the mor. On Instagram, my favourite sari revivalist Chinna Dua paints her own bindis, drawing inspiration from her sari- of- the- day. Still, I can never summon the courage to wear one no matter how much my outfit’s screaming for it. 

cooking with samin nosrat- salt, fat, acid, heat

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I first came by Samin Nosrat in 2017 via her book, a thick hardcover embossed with stylized microscope views of muscle and fat. The serious black and white cover is more biology textbook than cookbook and fronts a wildly colorful interior. Gorgeous watercolour illustrations replace the slick photography that defines the genre. Handwritten instructionals soften and elevate what could have been a pedantic exercise, and the book is a lovely addition to the graphic cookbooks trickling into the market. I bought it because Nosrat, like me, is an English major; I felt a sense of kinship with someone who understands the difference words and language can make to a discipline that historically hasn’t had much use for them. Recipes have always been laundry lists bulletpointed for convenience, and good food writing is truly hard to come by. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she got her dream job at American institution Chez Panisse by writing the owner- a complete stranger-  a grateful letter mentioning every memorable detail of her first meal there.

So when Netflix greenlit the show, I was beyond ready. 

Samin Nosrat is as gratifying to watch as she is to read. She is authentic and immensely likeable, which by itself is a feat. In this business it’s impossible to be  that earnest without appearing tone deaf or incredibly self indulgent, but she dispenses with any rules. Comparisons with celebrated hellraisers Anthony Bourdain and David Chang are inevitable but unfair. Bourdain liked to wander into surreal, absurdist territory, some of it for shock value, most of it to intimidating effect. Chang (of Ugly Delicious fame) is funny and irreverent. So is Nosrat, except her endearing nerdiness sets her apart. The only things these people have in common are a naked love of discovery, a rejection of artifice and the refusal to take themselves too seriously. 

 

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Here’s what I love about SFAH-  travel- cooking shows hosted by women invest in a brand of heavily curated, aesthetic domesticity. Women are primped for maximum viewing pleasure (think Padma Lakshmi in Top Chef sampling a street paella, pristine white tee and lipstick unaffected, Nigella Lawson pottering about the kitchen, nary a spatter in sight, Tarla Dalal’s level, unruffled delivery and starched pallu– even in the presence of scaldingly hot liquids). Meanwhile male chefs indulge their neanderthal hunter- gatherer instincts, eating sloppily, moaning primally, burping with undisguised delight. Nosrat refuses to nibble primly at her portions, but she also does not pander to literal- minded feminists who want her eating copiously, like she’s got a point to prove. There are plenty of places on the internet where performative hunger is used to challenge notions of femininity (on hilarious Instagram account You Did Not Eat That , pretty, disingenuous people pose with food), but she wants no part in it.

 

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SFAH is radical in how it tackles beauty and the expressing of feelings. Samin’s messy curls, an admitted source of frustration, are right there in HD in all their unstraightened, untreated glory.  Her cratered facial skin and dark circles are pleasantly concealer- free. She is easily moved- by a creamy aged cheese, a tender, translucent sliver of meat, a drop of clear honey sucked off a folded leaf. Her beautiful smile lights up the screen, and her teardrop- shaped bangle (which I want) knocks against the counter as she lays into her dough, just as much of a star as she is.

 

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But Nosrat’s biggest triumph by far is that she is a child of immigrants with visibly brown skin, educating us in a milieu where power- and televised culinary shows-  skew mostly white. When she cooks tahdig with her Persian mother, we are witness to an intimate cultural moment, a personal act of defiance. When she marinates turkey in a cheap plastic tub in a modest backyard in rural Mexico, she’d like us to trash elitist opinions of what constitutes good food. When she samples freshly unearthed miso made by a Japanese peasant, we learn how deprived we are even in abundance, how reliant on mediocre likenesses of the real deal. There are a lot of women in the show- home cooks, restaurant owners, teachers and enthusiasts, fellow- seekers of deliciousness. This was deliberate. ‘One of the extraordinary things about “Salt Fat Acid Heat”’, says The Washington Post, ‘is how many women appear in the show. They are there as friends and cultural guides for Nosrat, or they’re the faces of successful artisanal food businesses. Or they’re elderly home cooks, eager for the chance to reveal their secrets…“It was absolutely intentional,” that the show shows mostly women, and especially older women, said Nosrat. “There would be times where the producers would bring me a list of people” that was full of men, and she would tell them to go back to the drawing board.

 

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There is also the matter of fanciness, a legitimate concern. How many of us have access to the world’s best olive oil or the world’s rarest soy sauce? Nosrat addresses this by giving taste, not ingredients, primacy. She doesn’t want you grieving over your storebought staples; she just wants you to know what the gold standard is, and how achievable good taste is even within limited means. She wants you to know how  to get the most out of your money by examining a cut of meat scientifically. She wants you buying the right kind of salt from your neighbourhood grocer’s. She wants you moving the casserole you’re baking in the oven, because no oven heats uniformly. She’s all about the nuskha and the tareeqa, little hacks that get you sublime results. Eater has an excellent Marxist interpretation of the show’s love of artisanal businesses- you will not regret reading it. 

 

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Queue the show up already and prepare to fall in love with a host whose person radiates a kindness and intelligence rarely seen in the genre. Every episode ends with friends gathering at a table groaning with beautiful, fragrant food, all leading up to a ritual as old as time. May such wonderful gatherings be your lot, and may you always find solace in the glorious alchemy of salt, fat, acid and heat. 

the essential internet/ 41

shyamashades

 

Why isn’t anyone talking about toxic femininity?

I love clogs. There is something to be said for a shoe that melds comfort, practicality and leg- lengthening optics. My favorites come from Woodland; I currently own a lichen green pair with a sporty rubber undersole. Here’s why clogs are having a moment

For all the gau hysteria gripping the country, we know shockingly little about the quality of our dairy

Thoughts on the lost art of calling a gathering, and how to be a good hostess

Zero surprises- early Sona Mohapatra was as good as current Sona Mohapatra. When played in the middle of crawling traffic I’ve found that her songs have a curiously transportive quality. Suddenly you’re the cable TV- watching teen of your early 00’s and your heavily postered bedroom has begun to grate on you and you’re yearning to experience more than just the thrill of academic conquests- love, longing, betrayal, power

Image- Actor Khurshid Akhtar (Aar Paar, 1954) renamed Shyama in the casually Islamophobic conventions of India’s entertainment industry, wearing shades in a shape I’d personally never dare to and looking, like the millennials say, ‘like a total snacc’. 

witching hour with Sabrina

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Desi kids’ only memory of Sabrina is from the Archie comics. She was a page break for the far more exciting and glamorous hijinks of the Riverdale gang, and like Josie and The Pussycats and that tiny blonde imp Lil Jinx, a sideshow to the real deal. Unlike Josie and her bandmates, her life rarely intersected with Archie’s, cementing her position as filler and afterthought for decades’ worth of comics. This was a pity. Her universe held such promise. Two aunts- one testy, the other bumbling, both kind. A portly newspaper loving cousin. A magical feline for a pet. A doofus of a boyfriend, who Sabrina’s always saving from embarrassment. A whole town that’s blissfully unaware of the firepower in their midst. And yet, the Sabrina panels never went beyond lazy witchy imagery. All the spells and potions in the world couldn’t hide the fact that this was basic, milquetoast witchin’. 

 

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Netflix changes all that with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a luscious, dark, campy tribute to the comics. Relevant feminist themes and tropes clash and converge into a pacy montage of small town Americana. Shockingly topical conversations abound- the othering of the different, the crackdown on dissidents, the deliberate exclusion of women from positions of power, the ghettoisation of society, the burdening of minorities with loyalist, protectionist demands, majoritarian paranoia. Like the women in Sofia Coppola’s movies, the women in the series wield their bodies and their sexuality with the confidence of professional assassins. Feminine mystique becomes a subversive, do-good force in their exaggeratedly patriarchal ecosystem. Quite like real life, women negotiate the patriarchy in self- damaging ways, never quite managing to best their oppressors. They also perpetuate it for a bunch of relatable reasons- pride, fear, convenience, guilt. Blood and gore are over- present and only serve to emphasise the increasing normalisation of violence in the real world. The real horrors don’t lurk in the woods, waiting to serve bloody comeuppance. They lie in the hearts of small minded men and women capable of unspeakable evil. 

 

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I haven’t even come to my favourite bits yet. There are two. The first is how the show examines religion and its crushing primacy in the lives of its followers. Why are we so invested in authority figures? Why must religion control our private lives and innermost thoughts?  What gives one faith the right to deride another? Are the values of your faith entirely benign? Aren’t the followers of every faith equally corruptible? Do all faiths have more in common than they care to admit, like institutionalised narcissism, an intolerance for critique and debate, an appetite for tormenting women in so many heartbreaking ways, rituals that achieve the opposite of comfort- binding and intimidating? Why do concepts like choice and agency terrify those who represent their gods? My favorite professor from college and grade A human being Dr. Megha Anwer answered these for me a long time ago; she read John Milton’s Paradise Lost to and for us and made short work of the opacity all organised religion thrives on. Those were pleasant winters. The sun was warm and golden on the desks and walls of our cosy tutorial classrooms, yet I could only feel my stomach knot and sink. The revelation that both God and his nemesis operated at absurdly human levels of pettiness was too much to process.

My second favorite bit is how freely the show’s creators borrow, proving that borrowing, even when done unsubtly and in spades, can be a good thing. The show doesn’t pussyfoot around its extensive reliance on beloved book, TV and film hits for material. Harry Potter’s wizarding world, Terry Pratchett’s chaotically brilliant universe, Neil Gaiman’s mind- screwy inversions of the fairy tale, indulgent hyper- Christian fare like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Conjuring, Sofia Coppola’s unique brand of soft- lit, pastel feminine vengeance, even Netflix’s own breakaway hit Stranger Things– everything’s fair pickings. The Addam’s Family aesthetic takes the fun up several notches.

 

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Kiernan Shipka is a luminous and fresh faced Sabrina Spellman. I live for her structured waves, dark headband and wine stain-y lips. Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto do doting aunts and clever sisters Hilda and Zelda, and they are phenomenal. Their bits are an excellent study in sibling dynamics, switching dizzyingly from conflict to truce and back again to conflict, informed always by a mutual adoration and respect. When they’re fighting, I’m reminded of Sylvia Plath’s Lesbos 

Viciousness in the kitchen!
The potatoes hiss.
It is all Hollywood, windowless,
The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine.

I’m doped and thick from my last sleeping pill.
The smog of cooking, the smog of hell
Floats our heads, two venomous opposites.

Ambrose is a broodingly handsome exuder of nervous energy and Harvey is sweet and likeable in the way cows are, I don’t know. The show packs a fairly diverse cast and I’m happy with their choices. 

I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a love song to every woman who understands that the most radical act is to strive to feel comfortable in her skin. It is hope for the bitter and despondent among us, smarting from so many betrayals, craving a better life. A morbid but oddly life affirming Plath sums the substance of the show best in Lady Lazarus 

I have done it again. 
One year in every ten   
I manage it
A sort of walking miracle, my skin   
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   
My right foot
A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine   
Jew linen.
Peel off the napkin   
O my enemy.   
Do I terrify?
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be   
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.   
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.   
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.   
The peanut-crunching crowd   
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.   
Gentlemen, ladies
These are my hands   
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   
The first time it happened I was ten.   
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.   
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Dying
Is an art, like everything else.   
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.   
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   
It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute   
Amused shout:
‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.   
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge   
For a word or a touch   
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
So, so, Herr Doktor.   
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,   
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.   
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——
A cake of soap,   
A wedding ring,   
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer   
Beware
Beware.
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair   
And I eat men like air.

the essential internet/ 40

rakhi

 

Finding trouble reading books or long bits of writing, where once you could get through a dozen books a month? Beating yourself up over your poor reading productivity? This is the reason

The Buddhist mantra to finding happiness hinges on a technicality, but it’s an important one and makes all the difference

If JK Rowling’s newest iterations of the Potterverse feel contrived and inauthentic, it’s because they probably are

Writer Janice Pariat’s writing is a beautiful and life affirming thing. Explore her column for The Hindu BusinessLine here

I’ve always loved Bic Runga’s music. It’s a pity she never made more. This song was a constant headphones companion when I was living and working alone in the Philippines, missing S terribly. It’s playing on my car stereo a lot these days too

Image- Actor Raakhee reminding us that the waxing and waning of the choker’s popularity is irrelevant. Short or long, chubby or slender, there’s no neck the choker can’t make prettier. Sidebar: my heart broke reading this about her life