Friday, September 29, 2006

Strangely, a story

There is a nuanced vapor between sadness and the initial curve of a smile. In that vapor, resides a gossamer peach-silver lattice of silk thread. Through this fine weave, sedate meiosis sets in sometimes. Like winds that travel over powerful seas through monsoon winds, spiced with tales from faraway lands and long ago times.

Salty orange evening in Mexico perhaps. Pretty ribbons in her hair perhaps. Wooden, stained table-top and a bartender with river-sand skin perhaps. A happy request for a drink perhaps. A demure show of adroitness and concoction tempered with desire perhaps. A ruddy lavish smiling thank-you perhaps.

And he named the drink after her. Margarita.








Based on trivia I read on Margarita. It made me strangely sad and strangely…smile.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

At dusk


A blue glass cup
On a window sill did sit
One spot of milk on the saucer
And that’s all there was to it.

Through the lemony lace curtains,
A mossy meadow stretched
A russet sky dipped in yonder
And crystal-pricks of stars it fetched.

The cup and droplet trembled like wisteria,
In a passing truck’s milky light,
With dirge like melody they sighed…
Guess who’d watched ‘Brokeback Mountain’ last night?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Weekend

This weekend began with me hurting my knuckles at kickboxing. I didn’t think much of it because I was too tired and it wasn’t paining much more than a scrape. But I got home, fell into a heap on the bed, and went off to sleep with my mouth wide open. (Working title of sequel to ‘Eyes Wide Shut.’ Really, it’s true. Nope. Actually, it’s not.) And when I turned, my hand felt sore and bloody. I looked and the patch where the skin had peeled off had turned into a throbbing magenta and vein-blue crater. Strangely, my head felt hot, my throat felt sore, and my tongue felt thick. I wondered if I had also got bitten by a monkey in the bargain. (I read somewhere monkey bites are dangerous.)

I was still feeling sweaty from the work-out but the thought of having water touch and singe my wound put me off completely. I have been uninjured for so long that I can’t bring myself to look at a bruise. I am also squeamish, that way. Every time, I am stranded in a bus for long, I keep praying that no-one delivers a baby. Or if they do, there’s a bona fide doctor around and I don’t have to be around a bleeding woman. I’ll assist in the miracle of life by planting flaxseeds or something.

Then there was the sore point of coming to office on Saturday afternoon. This brought my resistance level down further. The anal Saturday meeting meant that I couldn’t go to Mumbai and be with family (I miss them a LOT now.) General joi de vivre plummeted further and I practically said goodbye to good health for the weekend.

I was really counting on being in Mumbai. Or actually, I was counting on being with my parents. Sure, my dad would be busy in office. Every afternoon, he’d call me up to tell me how nice it is to have me in the house and I should quit my job and ‘rest’ at home. (He has been saying that ever since I started working. My father is in the wee minority who thinks that I am unduly hard on myself all the time.) My mother will lovingly inspect my limp hair and tell me I look shabby and ask me whether I am using all those Garnier shampoos to attract pigeons. And then my sore knuckles reminded me how long it has been since I pounded my brother. I felt weepy. Every night I go to bed thinking how quickly time seems to be running out. Only a matter of time before I get married and leave for Delhi and then, visits home will become even more scarce…..unless I get a really incredibly paying job or something. Then I can probably visit Mumbai every weekend. Or have my folks visit me.

So, I promise myself that I will talk to Ma every two hours. She’ll get irritated and snap that I have nothing better to do, but I like the fuzzy fondness with which she calls me a useless lout and such like. (She means it all, by the way.) Other things will be discussed. We have a new dhobi who also runs a cycle shop. Ma likes enterprising people and this bloke has earned Ma’s respect enough to be served tea in the nice glass instead of the ordinary, scratched glass.

There is this hierarchy of cutlery in my house. Who Ma likes gets served in spotless china (last brought out when my girl-friends have come over - Anumita and SS, among noteworthy recipients.) The people who don’t quite make the cut get other, slightly marred cups and saucers. (Many of my brothers’ pals get served in this.) And the ones she absolutely hates get served in badly colored ceramic cups. (Much of Papa’s colleagues have sipped tea from here.) For her own friends, of course, there is a collection of Belgian crystal that Ma has cleaned and polished and zealously guarded over 25 years.

My mother is such a cute snob.

She also tells me that there is this party I have been invited to next weekend. I hope it’s one of those parties where my brief theatre experience is not recalled. I was Humpty Dumpty when I was in KG. And I was such a fraidy cat that I didn’t even fall down convincingly. I just stepped down gingerly and lay there until the other actors came and splashed rose water on my face. (My school took quite a few liberties with classics.) Embarrassingly, this incident gets mentioned at least once at every dinner. Seriously, why even bother building up self-esteem?

Now, my hand is hurting really badly.

To distract my attention from the wound, I finish the last few chapters of ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’. I would recommend this book as mandatory reading for everybody. It is such a frothy, innocent, simple book. There’s humor, there’s depth, and there’s a refreshing humility about one’s path to spirituality. Very engaging read.

Finally, duty calls. I drag myself out of bed, get dressed and go to office. Meeting is cancelled. I glumly sit in the rick for the ride back home.

Sun has set. No exciting prospects for a Saturday night and the ache for being in my pink and white room in Mumbai is getting unbearable.

I decide to talk to Ma but find that I’ve lost my phone.

My will to have a decent weekend comes crumbling down.



All the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men…..

Friday, September 22, 2006

On a platter (with a little bit of stretch)

The sun is done feasting
On a varied,sushi sky
The moon comes up for desserts
But the valley pastry is too dry

Lakes swill and lap
Into late, goth-hued hours,
Potent, dark, and strong
Like nice, vintage liqueurs

Elements in nature may rejoice,
Sometimes they may brood,
Remarkably, though, how everything,
Comes close to resembling food.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My Yummy Lunch

Today, I have the very humble but versatile chana dal, but just the way I like it. It’s pressure-cooked until there is very little water remaining. Then salt and chilli powder (I recommend lots of it, 7-8 spoons or so) is added and it’s cooked over slow flame some more. A tadka of mustard seeds or jeera completes the dish.

I love the way it sets like a savory pudding when it cools down a little and I can scoop up spoons of soft, spicy, pulses.

For variation, roasted garlic goes very well with most dals, especially moong. And the tadka could be in ghee, which makes everything a few notches tastier.

I strongly recommend biting into a nice, pungent green chilly rubbed with a little salt.

Oof! Lunch time already!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Water

Let’s say you are standing in a queue for a bus ticket. It’s a long line and you finally get to the counter – almost. There is one person ahead of you who, annoyingly, is just not behaving like the others; i.e. – handing out change and buying the tickets. She is asking questions - about why they are charging more than the regular fare, why the coupons don’t reflect the price she is paying, who decided the hike in the rate…basically, why things don’t add up.

Meanwhile, you get impatient and tap your feet. You wish this person would sort out her issues elsewhere, some other time.

But the thing is that the issues this person is sorting out are not hers alone, they are yours as well. You just don’t know it yet.

Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ somehow evokes such impatience with its pace but only until you grasp just exactly where the story is going.

The story is set in 1938. An 8 year old girl, Chuhiya, is married off to a sick man. On their journey across villages, the man dies and Chuhiya is left a widow. As per the ancient code of Manu, she must now live in penance in an ashram in Varanasi.

In this widow ashram, the rubix cube of questions, despair, shackles, and redemption shifts.

The ashram houses widows who have been forsaken by their families after their husbands’ deaths. Most come in as children and live out their entire lives there.

When Chuhiya is brought there, she harbors the naïve hope that her mother will come to get her someday. This wait for the tomorrow that’ll never come is something most of the widows are familiar with. They look at this little, feisty girl benignly. In turn, she amuses them with her antics (when she bites the ankle of a portly head honcho). Sometimes she alarms them (when she asks where the ‘male’ widows live). But, one by one, they all come to accept and love her the way people who’ve been given up on come to love children – despite themselves.

One of the first people that Chuhiya meets is a steady, somber Shakuntala (Seema Biswas). She is the tough cord of the ashram that holds the eccentricities of old women and foibles of a naughty child together. Then Chuhiya meets Kalyani (Lisa Ray), who is a beautiful widow. She is the only one in the ashram whose head is not clean shaven. Both become fast friends when Kalyani presents Chuhiya with a black puppy, Kalu.

One morning Kalu escapes from the girls and vanishes into a busy market. Chuhiya chases him and bumps into Narayan (John Abraham).

As events come to pass, Narayan falls in love with Kalyani and for the very first time, Kalyani wonders if she may have a life other than what she is bound to. However, individual desires must be confronted with steady, social opposition. Although widow remarriage is being proposed by reformists such as Gandhi and Raja Ram Mohan Roy, it is clear that not all individual lives will be affected by them. As with all good policies, there is a limit, initially, to how far public good will percolate. The lives of the widows in that ashram are still beyond reach.

There are also chilling, lurid references to the hypocrisy regarding widow’s status.

When Narayan first tells his parents of Kalyani, they recoil at the blasphemy. Later, we come to know that while widows are supposed to renounce the world, they are sometimes used to sate its most base instincts. As Narayan’s father explains: if a Brahmin sleeps with a widow, it is only she who benefits. It matters not if it is without her consent, whether she is as old as the man’s daughter (as was Kalyani) or whether she is only a child of 8 years (as was Chuhiya).

In the morass of religion, tradition, and impending reform, ‘Water’ tells the story of lost innocence and its germane dimension – hope.

To begin with, ‘Water’ is a beautiful film. Scenes seem to be sequences of portraits. It is a uniquely colorful film even though the most pronounced backdrop is the white of a widow’s sari. The other hues are mainly blue – cyan, Prussian, azure, midnight, peacock, Cerulean, indigo. One breathtaking scene is of John Abraham waiting for Lisa Ray by the river. The lake is the color of Krishna tessellated with the ivory shimmer of John’s kurta and his flute.

There is also the Holi sequence where literally, the dreariness of the ashram explodes in colors. Chuhiya looks very fetching as a young Gopi and there are smears of violet, vermilion and turmeric on wrinkled faces and shorn heads.

Sometimes, the light from unadorned diyas by the Ganges looks extravagant enough.

Coming to the actors – most of them are perfectly cast. Chuhiya is such an endearing little cherub. One spends much of the time wanting to cuddle her and pinch her cheeks.

Lisa Ray is positively luminous. She literally glows as if there is some sort of gleam coursing through her veins. With her clean, heart-shaped face, so uncomplicated and serene – she looks like a pretty, crystal, prayer bead. In fact, that child-like peace in her expressions lends a solid credence to the character. It is quite difficult to imagine anyone else in her part.

John Abraham isn’t too bad. He looks, I think, his best in this movie and there isn’t any of that annoying swagger.

And then there is Seema Biswas or the actor who can do no wrong. As Shakuntala, she is fearless with faith. Her role in the film is, in many ways, resonant of the widow’s struggle in India – silent, but not mute.

The master of ‘Water’, though, is Deepa Mehta.

Much of the film’s accomplishment is in what it’s not – a maudlin weep of the plight of widows or a superficial statement on Hindu mores or an angry tirade against the dichotomy that is India. (And Deepa Mehta had a lot to be angry about. She was stopped from shooting for the film in Varanasi despite obtaining the required permissions. The film was later shot in Sri Lanka.)

Personally, I find restraint a commendable trait. And ‘Water’ has it. If something can go without saying, Mehta has let it. The dreariness of the widows’ lives doesn’t hit you so much when you see them in their austere garb and shorn heads. It hits you when a woman simply says that the last time she had mithai was at her wedding, when she was 9 years old. She is close to 90 now.

Or when John Abraham asks Ray what is the first color she will wear after she gets married. (She has spent close to 15 years wearing white.) ‘Kanhaiya neela’, she answers.

The glaring divide between a man’s India and a woman’s India is not portrayed through any dramatic juggling of scenes. It’s in a quiet conversation between John Abraham and Lisa Ray. John tells Lisa that India is changing. Lisa asks, ‘Really?’

Strangely, the most heart-wrenching moments are not in the depiction of penury, exploitation, or death. It’s in showing a little girl, running around barefoot, happily, slowly forgetting that she will never see her mother again.

It’s in seeing her being promised a boat ride and some halwa puri. It’s in her entering a dark room and looking for treats. And the final dose of disgust is in seeing a man reclining in the shadows and watching her with interest.

The hugeness of societal reform is not in the rising background score when Gandhi is addressing a huge throng. It’s in a frantic Biswas handing over an abused child to the Gandhians (John is one of them) in some kind of simple faith that they will take care of her.

Then it’s in her waiting for the train to disappear and finally, turning back.


It’s not an ordinary storyteller who knows not only how to tell a story, but also when to end it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sad. Bored. Food.

Night. Sweet melancholy. One of those dark, salubrious times when the wind gently murmurs through open windows. Bugs look pretty against the lamplight. Yet, something sinister tiptoes about. I wait for blood to trickle down the crack on the wall and make a crimson puddle-pool on a shiny tile.

I was feeling sad and angry for no apparent reason. It is a mood I get into when I don’t eat read meat for a long time. I wonder if it is genetic. Someday, perhaps, adequate self-loathing/ absorption will drive me to study minutae of my every mood. Then, I will try and determine why fifteen days without eating MUTTON (and none of that wimpy boneless stuff – I’m talking about crunching bones and sucking marrow) makes me hate everything that moves and talks.

I indulged in a few moments of quiet contemplation. Slowly, the white-burning hatred mellowed to a soft dislike. Now, I did not crave red meat. But I did crave for something chewy, slightly sweet and tender, little juicy textures, flavored with at least two or three sharp tastes. So, in times like this when my mind is vexed and demanding, I start cooking up recipes.

What I conjure up with my eyes closed is a fresh, prawn salad. Young shrimps would do as well. Then I think of wet little pieces of pineapples, something ice-cold, green, and crunchy – maybe lettuce or celery kept on ice for a while. And a nice, dark, full-bodied sauce. I’m thinking maybe peanuts ground finely and mixed with two spoons of thick, pasty black bean sauce. The shrimps must be boiled just right, so that its natural juices are retained. They must be reasonably salted, good enough to be picked on without the sauce. The sauce is really for the greens. But if mixed well (with wooden spoons in a large wooden salad bowl), it is a good summery meal.

Then, there is this dish that my mother makes for me when I go to Mumbai. A little background: My mother will be watching ‘Ba, Bahu, aur Baby’. I will cringe and ask her ‘What! Why!?’ In response she will point and laugh at Deven Bhojani. (The guy is remarkably talented, though.) Then I will tell her how I haven’t eaten tasty meat for so long. And sulk. She will shush me and go back to hearty chortling. After the funny episode is over, she will go to the kitchen and cook. And the reason I think no cooking compares to a mother’s cooking is this – she will not ask me what I mean by ‘tasty meat’. But she will invariably rustle up something that will gratify my palate unerringly. It is uncanny.

This dish is simply kheema steamed with green chillies, pepper, and salt. There is absolutely no oil added but the fat from the kheema is enough to make it tender. While the mince is getting steamed, a little oil (very little – a spoon maybe) is smoked with red chillies, very finely diced capsicums, and garlic. The kheema is then added to this hot oil and tossed till it is evenly covered. Served hot with long-grained rice and spicy, red chutney.

Hmm. I have a good time being sad.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Not any more in a book store

I visited the Crossword at Mulund. It is big, bright, noisy, and has a really chic café. There are books too.

The reason I was there was to buy ‘Roots’ for J. I asked one of the assistants somewhat skeptically if she knew where I could find the book. Since I don’t really expect the Crossword staff to know about books, the blank expression didn’t come as a surprise. She looked at me wide-eyed. Similar reaction has been encountered in Pune when I tell a rick-fellow that I won’t pay half-return at 8:30 p.m.

Conversation went thus:

‘I’m looking for ‘Roots’ by …’

‘You want ‘Roots’?’

‘Yes’

‘Like garden…or something’,
says assistant, escorting me to the ‘Non-fiction’ section.

‘No. ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley. It’s a novel.’

‘Oh.’
Disappointed because she was about to show me a vibrant coffee-table book with a gnarled specimen on the cover. ‘Please ask there.’

‘Where?’, I look around.

‘At the Information’. She doesn’t say ‘DUH!’ but I can sense things that get muttered in the brain.

I approach the ‘Information’ desk. Man looks up.

I give him the details. ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley.

He types. I am pretty sure he has typed in ‘Hailey’ – the ‘H-ley’ with more mass appeal. I correct the spelling.

Nothing comes up.

Suddenly, out of the blue, jolting me out of the reverie I am in whilst browsing through a pasta cookbook, he snaps:

“ ‘Roots’ is the name of the book or the name of the author? ''

I consider a line of questioning that involves finding out if he is for real. Decide against it.

‘Book’

He types in some more. Nothing.

‘How have you spelt the title?’ I ask, suspecting some unintelligence.

‘R-U-T-S?’, asks the man wondering if there is an alternative way to spell something that obvious. Maybe ‘R-O-U-T-E-S’. Hmm.

‘Is that even a word?’, I ask impatiently.

‘Could be’.

Ah. Zen.

‘R-O-O-T-S’, I spell. (Not R double-0 T-S, in case that is what he types in the computer.)

‘Nope ma’am. No such book.’

Around me, people are browsing or going through the shelves systematically. Obviously, the key to finding anything in Crossword is to understand the code of how books are arranged, and then cracking it. No help is to be expected except from a fellow-broswer.

Here, however, the arrangement of books is not simplistic at all. I find Vikram Seth in ‘Indian Fiction’ and then again in ‘Indian Literature’ and surprisingly, in ‘Classic Novels’. Ditto Tolstoy. Then there is P.G. Wodehouse, along with J.R.R. Tolkien on a table with a placard, ‘Old Classics’, which is to be differentiated from ‘Classic Novels’ that is populated with Jane Austen and George Eliot. Salman Rushdie is nowhere in the aforementioned categories but rests lavishly bound under a simple ‘Fiction’. ‘The Alchemist’ is under business management while ‘Veronica Decides to Die’ is under Spiritual. And some books on acupuncture are heaped in the ‘Astrology’ section.

If the message here is that thoughts have no boundaries and all writing arises from a common consciousness that defies categorization, etc. etc., then the arrangement is excellent. If on the other hand, convenience is what the store was going for, well…doped rats in a rotating maze have had it easier.

Since hunt for the book came to a dead end, I went to the café and ordered a vanilla latte and a chicken sandwich. Both excellent. But somehow it made me a little sad. This place is a bookstore but you wouldn’t know it from the number of people eating and chatting away at the café (stylishly called ‘Brio’.) I remember what my friend Dominic had told me about Crossword: ‘That place has music for God’s sakes! How can you take it seriously?’

Of course, Dominic was a purist in such matters. To him, a bookstore was like a temple. The books had to be revered and the first step to revering a book is to know about it. Otherwise, it’s just weight on shelves.

In my college days, I have visited some quaint bookstores where the owners of the stores knew as much about readers as about books. I had gone looking for Sylvia Plath’s ‘Bell Jar’ in a place in Dadar. It wasn’t available. The septuagenarian talked to me a little bit and suggested I try Dorothy Parker. She’s one of my favorites now.

I had taken my brother to a hole in the wall near V.T. My brother, until then, did not read anything that didn’t have a duck looking character in it. He used all my copies of Malory Towers to kill cockroaches. (It was quite traumatic when I found a squashed roach on the book one night. Our relationship is a little strained, as one can imagine.) Anyway, after making some stupid comments about the books in that store (such as ‘That’s his middle name? ‘MAKEPEACE’? He he he! And what’s that? ‘THACKERAY’! MAKEPEACE THACKERAY! Maybe that’s his agenda, not name. Ha ha ha!’ or ‘Harper Lee isn’t Chinese?’ or ‘Take this book. It’s only 50 bucks but so thick! So little money, but so many pages.’)

It was very embarrassing to be caught with someone so boorish. But the owner chatted him up good and proper, sold him ‘Saki’ and got him hooked to good, solid storytelling. Today, with some pride, I can count my brother as among the few people I know who has read John Steinbeck. (Not that reading Steinbeck is itself an accomplishment, but his books are without pictures and don’t involve men conducting funny experiments in closed labs…and that, considering my bro’s proclivities is a huge leap in reading evolution.)

I miss that in Crossword now – people who actually know about the stuff they are selling. Okay, forget ‘know’..at least, have a vague idea of what they’re heaving from one table to another. It had good staff when it wasn’t a chain. The store actually had people who could tell you the plot of a book if you asked them. It had quaint, unknown books too. Now, it’s just about the publicized papyrus. I can’t imagine getting an Edna O’Brien in any of the outlets now. I can’t find a book that hasn’t been made into a movie or doesn’t have a controversial author or hasn’t featured in a Bestsellers list. Of course, not that it is Crossword’s folly. Could be sign of the times we live in. But what about those obscure titles that you find in the midst of all the well-knowns? Or the quiet people that hover around you and recommend one title or the other? The ones who tell you that you must try this or you may like that or have you read the other?

This bit of depth, along with the books, is what makes a bookstore. Otherwise, with just the space and light and instrumental music and a large café, it’s just another showroom.

Just go there for a sandwich.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Once upon a time, there was this day

Yesterday was a day of fairytale sequences.

A walk in the park where I saw a spectacular black and green snake. It was the kind of green that would shine in a coal mine. Made for a resplendent slither.

Then, a languorous breakfast and unhurried morning reading. Hazy drift into slumberland and a quaint, funny dream. Hurried plans with friends.

A mince-burger snack by the Khadakvasla dam. Watching water released in swift torrents, creating this spray curtain all around. It is something else to watch the sun through water mist. The innocence of guile. Thinking of college, of the teacher who told me, ‘Speed has nothing to do with progress, direction does.’ Listening to the sonorous gush of free water and thinking that speed does have something to do with progress. It’s more than beauty. It’s more than strength. It’s power - and that is more than so much else.

A trek to the fort. Watching the fog close in at the peak. Feeling fingers go cold and seeing feathery clouds roll in with the wind. Watched the rustle of soft, velvety leaves. The landscape looks like a verdant picture that got blurred. Sitting on old canons in the midst of moss. A perfect, oval lake, complete with an ancient bough arching over it.

A meal cooked in one of the huts. Regular fare – bhakra, besan sabzi, onion and mirchi chutney, crisp bhajia in spicy batter, little pots of thick, slightly sweet curd, creamy, milk-chai. Tasty food had on a charpoy, watching a snail climb a plant. Smiling, remembering how I had thought of speed a few hours back.

An easy climb down. A ride home with a muffled Bon Jovi.

A last look back.

Behind the seemingly uncomplicated tapestry of history, nature and a sudden trip, the sun goes down on an old fort.

To think, I had woken up imagining this to be just another Wednesday – same old, same old. It was, actually… much like timelessness.

Wonder what the snail is thinking.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

From in and around my room

Asks a moth to the flame
'What is in a name?'
The flame knows no better,
It answers 'Four letters.'

The roach on the floor
Through a slightly open door
Perambulates in daze,
'Insatiable' - Darren Hayes

The lizard behind the table
Unfortunately, sits
Waiting for me
To make a rhyme about it

But as much as I try,
I realize it's a rumor,
That I'm a poetess of mopes.
Really, my runes need some humor.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Five Women on T.V. that make me pop a blood vessel. (Because 'hate' is such a strong term)

1
Grace of ‘Will and Grace’. Debra Messing. Selfish (her T.V. Character, that is), insolent, laughs too loud, tries too hard to be funny, opens her jaws too wide, and to top it off, keeps her eyes big and round to look cute. Delusional enough to think there can be more than one Julia Roberts. (Pop! There goes one in my noggin’ right about now.)

2
Elaine in ‘Seinfeld’. Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Those floaty, dark skirts, whatever on top of her head that qualifies as hair, that whole Gothic get-up (if it isn’t Gothic, it should be – its disturbing), wide, wide wide, wide grin with chin thrusting out…she should marry George Costanza – deserves it.

3
Brooke in ‘Bold and the Beautiful’. There was a time I liked her. I really did. But then…why does all her lingerie have lace? Irritating. And you think that someone as well-traveled as her would find people with different surnames – other than Forrester…or Forresters other than Ridge. And why does she never go after him when he’s single? All that regressive man-hungry, tabloidish behavior (which is what I liked in the first place), and then there was all that lace that killed it.

4
Every single female on ‘One Tree Hill’. (I know this make the count more than 5 – but with the amount of individuality they show, all of them can be considered as one.) Who looks like a teenager on that show? (Men included.) Or do teenage years go up to 29 now? Why does everyone wear gloss and perfectly tapered jeans? And how come no-one wears sneakers? No one? And one can show exasperation without rolling the eyes. Strange but true. (But there is one I like – she has curly hair and works in a club or something. She looks sensible.)

5
Caroline Duffy in ‘Caroline in the city’. As is clear, I cannot stand women who try to look cute. And to top it, she has a cat and a predictable sassy friend and a brooding cartoonist with who she embarks on a twisted, tortured romance. …And forget funny…those cartoons aren’t even appealing.