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International Women’s Day #100

March 8, 2011

I have generally avoided spouting views publicly on women, gender equality and feminism because my take on the situation has been evolving over the years and is far too complicated/confused to be summarised in a pithy post. I am averse to claiming membership to many of the existing feminist camps because many of them adopt stances too extreme for my taste; on the one hand, my ‘one-of-the-guys’ status amongst friends makes me cringe from the divisive men vs. women debate and on some days, I cringe at the phrase ‘one-of-the-guys’ – does my status as a woman who enjoys relatively equal rights as men make me any less of a woman?

However, as the 100th IWD comes to a close, I must mention one observation that has baffled me repeatedly in the last few years. Many of us women denounce the inequality of power and money but continue to foster a culture where woman continually choose to be nurturing, pretty and demure over brainy, highly paid and assertive. Even amongst the most ‘feminist’ of my friends and acquaintances, I see a tendency to encourage amongst their female friends lesser-paying humanities and arts studies, rather than higher-paying science, engineering or finance professions; please don’t theorise about left- and right-brained nature of male and female intelligence – a lot of that is constructed by ‘nurture’ in my opinion. Many of these ladies are quick to quit high-paying jobs leading to positions of power based on a whim that they’d rather try something different. If I hear of another instance of a girl giving up on her PhD plans or lucrative career to move for love or marriage, in irrational ways that many men would not, I will retch!

I have attended several ‘Women in Banking’ and ‘Women in Finance’ events where senior management express frustration at the trend of women choosing to drop out of races while they are winning. Through my boyfriend’s MBA class, I notice highly capable women holding their careers back to suit their partners’ whims. Many of my male friends are a lot more understanding about my choice to stay within banking for purely mercenary motivations. Of course, there are many systematic issues to blame – the lack of work/life balance in many of the highest paying jobs force women into a position where they have to choose between career and motherhood, for instance. Another cultural issue with women rising in male-dominated corporate world is the brand of politics and their appetite (or the lack thereof) for such power games. But even so, why do women, who have had all the opportunity in the world, choose to work in lesser paying and less powerful jobs? Especially in their 20s, when women have fewer/no constraints in terms of juggling household and family responsibilities, why do they not gun for more ambitious jobs? In other words, why am I more likely to find women in obscure activist groups protesting against Goldman Sachs’ compensation policies as opposed to women heading up executive boards in GS and making real changes in compensation policies?

These are not victims of circumstances, but conscious decision-makers opting to take the lesser share of the pie – why?

PS – This is a rant based on personal and anecdotal incidents, so no links to any major studies this time, I’m afraid! I expect some brickbats about how the world is inherently unfair to women, etc, which I do not deny, but the question I raise is about the conscious choices.


Kilimanjaro or Machu Picchu?

February 5, 2011

The week of the Royal Wedding is rather well-timed, in the midst of a plethora of public holidays and since Ritwik and I have not been invited to the wedding (how rude!), we are considering making a quick trip – an 11 day holiday with a mere 3 days’ of leave? Yes, please!

From the moment we conceived this plan, we have been agonising over the choices – should we be climbing Machu Picchu in Peru or Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania? We decided to go for a physically active holiday because both of us expect to be relatively fitter than usual between our personal training sessions at the gym, my half-marathon in March and training for a good time at the British 10k in July.

The reasons for our dilemma are as follows:

a) Machu Picchu – amazing history, a completely exotic country and continent to both of us (I’ve never been to South America), a chance to practice my rudimentary Spanish speaking skills, great food, a physically less gruelling experience and therefore more achievable. But, an expensive flight and a long journey (>20hrs of flying and stopovers) to a place where there is so much else to see too, but we can’t combine those in this trip because of lack of time. Would it possibly be better to combine this with a trip to Brazil for the Rio Carnival in Mar 2012?

b) Kilimanjaro – highest peak in Africa, a personal challenge that I am adamant on achieving, amazing location, would be a testament to physical fitness if we complete this, the physically gruelling experience would be quite a test of spirit but we could be biting off more than we can chew, the proportion of those who reach the Uhuru peak is apparently smaller than even the already unimpressive figure advertised by the travel agents. I wouldn’t want to risk falling ill/injuring myself before my upcoming exam and wedding soon after! And I have a less than great track record with dealing with acclimatization at high altitudes. This is a lot more expensive climb but a shorter and cheaper flight to get there. We have reconciled to the fact that this trip wouldn’t allow us the time to check out the safaris or a relaxing getaway to Zanzibar after the climb. Also, we are not getting any younger, so should we do this now, or should we keep this for later and train up well in advance? Also, Apr-May is the rainy season, not a good time of the year to climb.

Decisions, decisions! Any input from you, perhaps?


February 5, 2011

Threw a much belated housewarming party last weekend and much jello shots, sangria, freshly shaken (but not stirred) cocktails, canapes, cheese board, cold cut platters et al were had. Several people commented that they liked the Sangria in particular so I’ve decided to note down what I put together to make it; there’re a million Sangria recipes out there already, why not add one more to them? 🙂

1 large or two small apple diced into small pieces (should be manageable in a small glass!)

1 crunchy pear diced like the apple above

A fistful of blackberries

Half a lemon thinly sliced

Half a clementine thinly sliced

1 bottle of Rioja Rojo

An equal amount of fizzy lemonade

Two shots Gordin’s Gin

Two shots of Cointreau

The addition of gin flabbergasted the Brazilian amongst us but it makes the drink less fruity/girly, I think, and the Cointreau and blackberries add that warmth to make it a nice winter drink rather than the summer drink that it is usually considered to be.

And good lord, are we already a month and a bit into 2011? :/ Pass me some sangria, please!

‘Too Big To Fail’

January 28, 2011 Andrew Ross Sorkin should be made compulsory reading for anyone in the financial services/banking industry. The pace of the book, just like that of life during the time of Lehman’s collapse, is incredible and indeed, the book proves to be ‘too good to put down’ at times. It is an excellent portrayal of the unintended consequences set into motion by the best intentions and of the risks of excessive hubris in one’s own way of thinking. While the book is written by someone who’s kinder to the characters of the drama than members of the general public would be, it does raise interesting philosophical questions on the fairness of risk borne by the collective society while rewards are always personal.

I foolishly picked up a very angsty book, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being‘ by Milan Kundera, to follow the treatise on finance and I’m plodding through it reluctantly. Next, I would like to read a book which examines the financial crisis from the a non-banking perspective, i.e., an analysis of how the credit crunch and the following financial crisis were an inevitable result of changing social and economic value systems and spending habits. Any recommendations, folks?

Return from the Dead.

January 21, 2011
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About time I posted something here, I thought.

Happy New Year and all that, folks.

I don’t do New Year Resolutions. I find it stupid that people use the calendar as an excuse to delay self-improvement. The change in the calendar year does not necessarily make any of us a stronger, better, thinner, smarter person – every day can be the start of a good thing, why wait till the beginning of the next year?

That said, there are a few things I’d like to implement in the short term, nothing to do with the turn of the year, assuredly. I’d like to scale back a bit more on my incessant connectedness to the Internet and exist more and indulge more in the physical world, especially with respect to expressing my thoughts and  views. On that front, a leather jacketed diary has been acquired and a daily entry has been making its way onto its lined pages. A quaint activity these days, it would seem, but some things, especially personal, are best written privately than in cryptic posts on personal blogs (which this one doesn’t purport to be, in any case). Also, I hope to resume what used to be a regular habit with me which somehow got lost along the way – sending birthday cards by post. My laziness and resistance to the work involved has grown significantly over the years; sometimes, I even manage to buy a card and write out the greetings and then forget to post it! I hope to rectify this situation from this year, starting today with my Dad’s birthday card.

And as an over-arching theme to the above and other things I would like to work on, I would just like to write more – online, offline, about topical matters, about personal matters, personal communication, etc.

Off to post the greeting card now, ta!

In defence of high heels

August 2, 2010

@cgawker tweeted this recently: High heels are the burkhas of Western society. The sentiment was soon echoed by Nimbupani and I quickly jumped to the defence of my beloved heels – they’re an important accessory in my wardrobe, subject to occasion and comfort levels. And then in a few back-n-forth tweets, I clarified that I do not endorse back-breaking masochism displayed by some women who wear ‘stools, not heels’, in the words of a wise friend.

And then I saw a raging debate on Nimbupani’s FB page and then this post on Nandini’s Niche (blog no longer in existence), started typing up a monster of a comment and decided to make a post out of it (might I say, it was about time I resurrected this space too?)

I love my high heels and consider it liberating that I can strut around in my heels feeling sexy, in this city, while back in more conservative towns in India, I might be forced to go for a plainer look in flats to not ‘invite attention’. I find that as I get more confident as a person, I opt for higher heels, wanting to project myself higher and further out. I’m a huge fan of the fact that the boyfriend (now fiance!) doesn’t mind one bit that my wicked Guess stilletos make me taller than him. I have an aunt who craves to wear heels but she has been forbidden from doing so because that would make her taller than her husband – wtf. So much for ‘liberation’ from heels.

I find it a farce when people equate heels to burqas on the mere basis that they are bad for us. You know what else is bad for us? Alcohol, cigarettes, junk food and Coke – there is lots of conditioning through marketing and advertising, on men and women, which projects consumption of various items on that list as cool or ‘mainstream’. In the UK, one faces a LOT of peer pressure & professional pressure to drink – I’ve seen the ridicule a couple of my non-drinking friends invite from friends and colleagues, so can alcohol be called the equivalent of a gender-agnostic burqa then? Can an alcoholic in the UK claim to be a victim of societal pressures to conform to the mainstream? Can a woman with a bad back/knees who insists on wearing impractically high heels be called a victim of Western society’s gender expectations? The answer to all of the above is a resounding NO. The last two questions relate to making poor choices, rather than being victims of circumstance. Only women in the fashion industry and the entertainment industry can make a legitimate claim to be accursed with limited latitude with respect to their wardrobe and footwear options and I do feel for them – most of us mere mortals have no such compulsions on how our image is projected.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that there was a time I wore cheap, uncomfortable high heels everywhere, ran after buses, dashed between classes, carried ridiculous amounts of stuff elevated a few inches off the floor and then bitched about how it is SOOO unfair that women have to make all this effort to look pretty because of standards set by chauvinistic men. Then I discovered comfortable heels. And I learnt to evaluate appropriateness of the situation in which to wear high heels. I learnt to give my feet, knees and back some respite. I reminded myself that I always had choice but I was foolishly refusing to exercise it, choosing to play a victim of ‘gender expectations’ instead. Aka, I grew up some, in the fashion sense. I also realised that the key reason I was wearing high heels all the time to mask my over-weightedness, so I hit the gym instead. Out with the shoddily made high heels, in with the Asics running shoes along with a few well-made high heels, ballet flats, sandals, boots et al.

And through my love-hate phases with this phenomenon called high heels, here is why I defend them. There is ample proof to back Nandini’s claim on FB that heels make girls look better – they make the waist-hip ratio adjust to a more attractive figure, flatten the tummy, add height, accentuate the butt and emphasize the legs. If chosen carefully, they need not be uncomfortable and can enhance confidence. The richest women in the world express their individuality and financial independence by splurging on high heels and they are therefore somewhat of a symbol of choice. I am no big fan of the ‘Manolo Blahnik gag of giggling girls’ – women who swear by 900USD Louboutins or Jimmy Choos after watching ‘Sex & the City’, but I find it awesome that women are free to make (what I consider foolish) purchases of that sort without the threat of a man beating her up for spending her own money – a not uncommon phenomenon in many households, FYI. Some rich men splurge on Havana cigars, some rich women pick up made-to-measure Ferragamos.

There is also ongoing research on how tall people are often perceived to be more successful, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy; men tend to be taller than women, and some women want to correct this situation at their workplace with the aid of high heels – this, in no way makes them victims ‘succumbing to gender expectations’. I bet Sarkozy wishes on some days that men could get away with wearing heels too.

I am now sensible about when I choose to wear my high heels – for instance, yesterday, I volunteered at the Shakespeare’s Globe for six hours on my feet and wore embroidered fabric-finish Mary-Jane flats. Today, in a carpeted office when I am comfortable in the knowledge that my knees are not taking the entire brunt of the heels, I wear 3inch gold-clasped black stilletos. After moving to London with its cobbled-stoned streets which are unforgiving to high heels, I have developed the excellent habit of wearing flats to run after buses and to travel to places while carrying high heels in my bag to change into at my destination. I now unapologetically (and a bit meanly) laugh at those who feel the compulsion to wear high heels all the time or in inappropriate situations (while travelling to a new city and walking all day through tourist haunts – wtf), not because they’re mired in an unfair world which requires them to wear heels because they have made a poor fashion choice for the occasion.

And finally, two less talked about but important points in defence of high heels – they make for excellent weapons of self-defence (what, have you never had a creep bother you in a nightclub, and then find yourself ‘accidentally on purpose’ stepping on his toes?) and they make for an interesting accessory in the sack 😉

On a closing note, I have absolutely nothing against those who choose to not wear high heels – it’s a personal choice and a statement of one’s own style, for crying out aloud, but in no way is it a licence to feel morally superior to those who choose to wear them – I can’t speak for all but some of us are not upholding up notions of patriarchy by wearing high heels, but only asserting personal style choices. And lest anyone think I have an Imelda Marcos-esque shoe fetish, know that it is the comparison with the burqa which triggered this post – I strongly believe that the juxtaposition undermines the gravity of the burqa and politicizes what can be boiled down to a fashion accessory choice.


Ooh, this post really tempts me to write about why I find some ‘feminist causes’ most irksome and therefore do not identify myself publicly as a ‘feminist’ but that’s another write-up altogether. Soon, soon. I hope.

India’s economic growth & the entitlement culture

March 28, 2010

Nobody likes to play a spoilsport in the face of buoyance and optimism about India’s economic growth potential. But sometimes it is necessary to acknowledge reality and anticipate possible speedbumps in what is expected to be smooth cruise towards an economic peak. Shankar Acharya’s column on Business Standard refers to the pre-Budget Economic Survey of the government, published in late February, and the Budget speech by the finance minister, as the sort of optimism that any government is prone to express.

The pre-Budget Economic Survey of the government, published in late February, exudes optimism about economic growth: “Indian GDP can be expected to grow at 8.5 +/- 0.25 per cent (in 2010-11), with a full recovery breaching the 9 per cent mark in 2011-12.” In his Budget Speech, the finance minister said, “With some luck, I hope to breach the 10 per cent mark in the not-too-distant future.”

However, he is baffled by Martin Wolf’s declaration that he has “little difficulty in imagining that India can sustain growth of close to 10 per cent a year for a long time” (Financial Times, March 3, 2010).

Shankar points out several truths many in a celebratory mood might be averse to acknowledging. For instance, that the expansionary fiscal actions has doubled the combined fiscal deficit in 2009-10, compared to the pre-recession 5% in 2007-08. The situation could be exacerbated with inflation and policy rate increment expectations. And, significantly, that the the economic growth in recent years has been lopsided, with very little contribution from industries, which are still burdened with poor infrastructure, unfeasible labour laws and complex tax structures. Furthermore, RBI’s six-currency real effective exchange rate (REER) index of the rupee has shown an appreciation of a hefty 15 per cent but remains exposed to vagaries of inflation and policy changes in China with respect to the yuan.

I share Shankar’s skepticism about extraordinarily high growth rates in India in the face of a government which only seems to be nurturing a culture of entitlements – the latest of which could be this.