When I read about the bombs at the Boston Marathon, I couldn’t help wondering if those who’d planned this terrible plot had watched Four Lions. Meanwhile, there were some joy among a few people I know that the al-Quaeda hadn’t claimed responsibility for it. “Call it a silver lining, but it’s a damned relief to hear of a terror plot that doesn’t immediately throw up a brown, bearded man,” wrote an American friend in an email.
Then yesterday, the FBI said the bombs may have been packed in pressure cookers and my heart sank. As a friend said to me, “Let’s just think about which ethnicity is most closely associated with pressure cookers? After all, jo biwi se sach-much kare pyaar woh Prestige se kaise kare inkaar?” That Hindi bit translates to “If you love your wife, you won’t say no to the Prestige pressure cooker”, which was the tagline from an old Prestige campaign. It probably sounds like a somewhat non sequitur-ish line to many today, but exploding pressure cookers used to be one of the most popular methods in dowry deaths. Keep that in mind and the two parts of that tagline aren’t as disconnected as they initially seemed.
Setting aside dowry deaths, pressure cookers, despite having aided and abetted murder in the past, remain among the the South Asian cook’s favourite kitchen equipment because food is cooked in a jiffy and if you time it right, the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender and the rice is fluffy and the world is a happy place. The abiding food memory for most South Asians of my generation must be that of a shrieking whistle going off in the kitchen and a white plume of smoke whooshing out of the top of the pressure cooker. That was the signal that the food was done. I believe pressure cookers have become sleeker, cooler and more discreet now. I’m also possibly the only brown person who has never used a pressure cooker. I keep imagining the damn thing blowing up in my face. Like it seems to have done at the marathon. A pressure cooker in a backpack. Paint or photograph that and it’s like a symbolic representation of a South Asian through clichés. It seems they’ve got video footage of suspects. I’ve rarely hoped so desperately that a face be Caucasian. But a pressure cooker in a backpack? As another friend put it, “This does not look good for brown people.”
On an unrelated note, the Pulitzer Prize for photography was announced on April 15. The AP team won a prize for their coverage of the civil war in Syria. There are some truly heartbreaking images in there, so harden your heart or keep the tissues handy before you click. One of my favourite photographs from the series though is this one by Narciso Contreras.
It’s such a quiet but dramatic shot — the devastation and despair against the calm of an untroubled sky. The headlights that glow with a violent hope, an anger. I glimpsed the photograph yesterday and haven’t been able to forget it. “All changed, changed utterly:/ A terrible beauty is born.”
Some of the most beautifully framed and harrowing images in the slideshow that AP has put up are by Contreras. Like the one in which a rebel soldier is reflected in a mirror, a father weeping as he holds the bloodied body of his dead son, a triumphant rebel on a street corner. Contreras has also taken some fantastic pictures in Burma and India (he’s been to Kashmir, among other places).
And now I’m late for work.
Someone really needs to pay me a salary just for, you know, existing. God knows, given the state of affairs in so many parts of the world, just staying alive is a bit of an achievement.