Fiction Fragment: Surf Excel

It happens every once in a while. She starts watching a film from forty to thirty years ago. She admires the grace with which the heroine wears her cotton saree. The simplicity of the heroine’s dreams. A house, a baby (or two). The gentle teasing that comes just after declarations of love. The grace of the moment comes from being so familiar and so simple.

There is such aesthetic beauty in the divison of roles. The heroine looking glorious as she cooks in the kitchen. The fact that nothing stops her from loving their child. That he buys her something exceedingly pretty. Or how she sweetly waits for him. Even when she burns their dinner, there is such childlikeness about her guilt.

But it keeps coming back to her cotton saree. The simplicity of it. The elegance of something draped so casually. The crispness of the cotton fading through the day. How it frumps around the waist. How the beautiful woman adjusts her falling hair on her face with the back of her hand, because her fingers are too messy with dosai maavu.

The vision of breakfasts in perfect homes. Steam, and the suffocating smell of hot pongal. She realizes why she would hate feminists if she was a man. Could a feminist make perfect filter coffee? Could a feminist wear a crisp cotton saree and then soften it with the routine of domesticity?

And then she looks at her own slightly tattered shorts. The film ends. She sighs. Besides, she would find the washing of sarees too cumbersome.

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20 Responses to Fiction Fragment: Surf Excel

  1. Nilu says:

    This, I am happy to inform, would have been accepted in Ananda Vikatan when it was a respectable publication still.


  2. Shefaly says:

    Just yesterday I explained a 20-year old Californian that Indians do wear shorts (as I am sure do Ecuadorians) but usually indoors, except in Metros.

    PS: Do you wash your clothes with hands? Washing machine nahin hai? Just wondering…


  3. Nilu says:

    Shefaly, do you undergo training somewhere on how to spoil good bits of fiction by imposing your meaningless life on it?


  4. Aadisht says:

    Domesticity is independent of feminism or cotton sarees. In fact active engagement with ironing and buying groceries is a prominent part of masculinity. Cutting vegetables and cooking can be shared between men and women. Washing dishes afterwards should be outsourced as far as possible.

    Perfect filter coffee requires a lungi, and not a cotton saree.


  5. Nilu: Thanks. But behave. Okay. Or odappen.

    Shefaly: Ignore Nilu. But do tell me that you perceive some angst? 🙂

    Aadisht: True to some extent. Domesticity can be achieved even with a job. Do men get pangs like that? That succumbing to domesticity is so breathtakingly simple. And easy.


  6. Shefaly says:


    Thanks. You had warned me in advance against engaging with Nilu so every time he tries, I just remember to ignore him.

    Do I perceive angst? Well only to the extent that I last had steaming idlis when you took me to East Ham… Any mention of steam and filter coffee conjures the same vision for me 😦 The saree doesn’t feature in that list…


  7. Nilu says:

    I don’t try, I suggest. I think it’s in your best interest.


  8. Very nicely written ! Loved the crisp cotton sari with ‘crispness’ fading & the frumping around the waist bit 🙂 … as for men getting pangs of domesticity .. well … I am quite sure we do … the more interesting question is whether (if at all) they are expressed & if they are then the manner in which they are expressed (Kindly refer to Aadisth’s keen insights on Masculinity 2.0 🙂 ) ! … maybe a vestigial ‘hunter/gatherer’ evolutionary reflex doesn’t take too well to the idea of being ‘domesticated’ !! (sigh … such a cliche, isn’t it !)

    P.S. : On a slightly different but related note … Am wondering what would have been the male equivalent of ‘domesticity’ during the hunter/gather phase … hmmm …


  9. Sriram Venkitachalam says:

    love the respect paid to the details of the cotton saree and dosai maavu fingers – i see the cracks dry maavu makes – although brutal on someone 8000 miles away.


  10. rads says:

    o lord@cotton saris. Just for that very reason I’d skip back home in a heartbeat.
    Cotton saris. hmm…

    I still own a bunch o them. Summers I spend a couple of days starching and pressing them. After 1 summer, they go home 🙂


  11. wordjunkie says:

    ..then again, there is always drycleaning..:)


  12. Hopscotch says:

    So that is what a modern woman’s life is… between sari and shorts…interesting!


  13. ilegirl says:

    She realizes why she would hate feminists if she was a man.

    I get this, too. It looks so simple from the outside, though my own mother always worked outside the home so the IT is in my imagination only, not my memory. There is indeed something serene and beautiful in the division of labor. Of course, we make do and it’s not at all simple. So sometimes we yearn for a simplicity we will never know.

    Interesting, provocative. Thanks.


  14. Suman says:

    ‘Suffocating smell of hot pongal.’ You killed me with it Neha. I’d have liked ‘fragrance’ instead of ‘smell’ though. Oh, I miss Pongal man!


  15. Good one………. i just remembered my moms trade mark cotton sarees she used to wear before. Now poly cottons has taken its place, as you dont have to starch it. But still my mom look more beautiful in cottons like any other women.


  16. Dunno, I think the Greer Gang has taken over my head and that version of simplicity still sickens me.

    And the punch at the end … the writer in shorts? Armageddon!



  17. mg says:

    “Aesthetic beauty in the division of roles”. Well put! But such trouble in keeping things beautiful that way for some of us…at least for me.

    Also love the desire for the crisp cotton sari. Shallw e wear saris to the concert Though it is too cold for cotton, we can attempt silk?


  18. Suketu: I think the idea of domesticity for men was built around the role of being a provider. I guess domesticity is not so much about being domestic, or house-centered, as it is about toeing the well drawn line of roles. So hunting/gathering would be a role anyway.

    On that note though, there is enough evidence to suggest that prehistoric communities shared hunting and gathering, and it wasn’t all men who did it!

    Sriram: Get a grinder! 🙂 It’s totally worth the investment, and pretty much pays for itself. But yes, I get the brutal-ness of it. I sort of makes you homesick in an almost physical way.

    rads: Ah – I love them. And I think the traditional rice water starch wears off beautifully.

    wordjunkie: I don’t like it when cotton catches that fumy dry cleaning smell. But I do love the smell of petrol!

    Hopscotch: Well.. modernity is over-rated. I think. 🙂

    ilegirl: It’s so beautiful. So well arranged. But I would die of claustrophobia within it. I think it’s tempting sometimes though, to see what would happen if you could experiment with it for just a little while.

    Suman: Agree.. fragrance would be a much better word. But now my mind is fixated on pongal.

    naren: Thanks! 🙂

    Devil incarnate: See, that’s where it hits. Even I realize that women look gorgeous in their cotton sarees – and perhaps I would even like wearing them. But I feel like I am giving into some idea of beauty. It’s so hard to even articulate…

    J.A.P: Umm.. err…

    mg: If I can find a blouse that I still fit into – I gladly will. 🙂


  19. dipali says:

    This reminded me of my cotton sari all day days!
    Very nice.


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