Sunday, April 22, 2012

The grandmother at Zumanity

Let's talk about what happened at Vegas.

Nearly two years after moving back to India from the US, the family has decided to return for a short vacation.  When you can occasionally afford it, the 'American spring for the Indian summer' trade is one that is pretty easy to make.  What is less easy is the decision on where exactly to visit in the US.  Particularly heavy debate centered around a couple of free days on the itinerary.  The wife plumped for something kid friendly, I for Vegas.  In an increasingly rare victory for our youthful urges over parental instincts, we put our chips on the strip.

So here we are, on our kidless night in Vegas, and the show we plan to catch is Zumanity.  For those unfamiliar with it, Zumanity is an 'adult oriented' Cirque du Soleil show that runs at the New York New York hotel.  It has the familiar Cirque acrobatics and athleticism, but is spiced up with a heavy dose of Vegas style cabaret sensuality.

The turnout is big and the crowd is all dressed up in their finery.  The evening is young, the audience - less so.  After all, at $100 a pop, the show isn't exactly up your average college student's alley.  The lights dim, the pretty girls come out, and we are off.  Over the next two hours, we have act after act of extremely skillful acrobatics performed by scantily clad, universally topless women, and scantily clad, universally well endowed men - though the latter needs to be inferred, and isn't as readily verifiable as the former.

Now, needless to say, this isn't the sort of show that plays regularly at the Prithvi theater in Bombay.  The wife and I are one part thrilled at the delicious naughtiness of it all, and one part open jawed at the proceedings on stage.  But most of all, I think we are just a bit awkward, if you get the drift.  I turn to her to say something like "Wow! How did she do that??" and she returns a benevolent smile and a shake of the head that says "Yes, I am sure you were admiring the technical difficulty of that maneuver".

In the midst of this, two of the performers (needless to say, topless and well endowed respectively) call out for some audience participation.  They jump into the front rows, search around - and while I am trying desperately to avoid eye contact, they pick a woman from row three.  She says her name is Debra (or some such).  She is dressed in a baggy pair of jeans and a generously large white T-Shirt.  She looks old enough to be a grandmother a few times over, and she is blushing like a new bride.

So this hunk on stage sidles up to Debra, rubs his crotch suggestively on her hips while his nubile partner, wearing scarcely anything more than her smile, looks on with seductive encouragement.  "So Debrrra", he purrs, rolling his r's, "what do you do?"  If she was blushing before, now she is positively mortified.  Giggling uncontrollably, she hides her face in her hands, and mumbles - you can't make this stuff up - "I am a school bus driver."

The audience explodes in laughter.

And I start thinking.  Here, in vignette is a commentary on so much that is different about the American and Indian social constructs.  This setup on stage would never, ever be witnessed in India.  "Why do you say that?" asks the wife when I mention it to her after the show.  Well, let us think, I say, and we come up with the list below.

Top 10 reasons why a schoolbus driving grandmother named Debra will not be found on the stage of a risque cabaret show in India:

[Caveat:  All generalizations are false, including this one.]
  1. Women don't drive school buses in India.  So if she were making career choices in Hyderabad, the Indian Debra (let's call her Debrani) wouldn't be picking 'school bus driver'.
  2. If Debrani were to be working in her youth, she would certainly not be working at this age.  Her kids, if she had any, would consider it a daily public insult if their mother were to be off doing physical labour every day.  "Why do you have to, mom?  What are we here for?  Are we not able to provide for you?", her well meaning if inadequately sensitive kids would ask.
  3. If she had indeed worked and saved up money, Debrani would never spend $100 on herself for a night of pure pleasure.  A gift for the grandkids?  Investment in a fixed deposit? A pilgrimage?  Sure.  But a trip with the husband to Vegas (or equivalent) and a $100 ticket for an evening show?  You've got something else coming.
  4. If she did convince herself to spend $100 for an evening out, she would not attend a sexy cabaret show.  Why?  Because that would mean an explicit acknowledgement of her sexuality, and hey - Debrani would never do that.
  5. If she were to magically make herself turn up at such an event, and the hunk called on her, Debrani would never step up on stage.  Or the hunk would not call on her knowing full well that he wasn't going to get her up there.  A public acknowledgement of her sensual side?  Control yourself!
  6. Debrani wouldn't find many of her peer group in the audience.  All she would see would be faces of prurient men and bashful young lovers.  Hardly a socially 'safe' atmosphere for her to come out in the open and on stage.
  7. The said prurient audience would much prefer to see one of the 'bashful lovers' variety be called up on stage.  Where is the gallery demand for grandma Debrani and her ilk?
  8. If, through a series of unlikely events Debrani did land up on stage, the hunk would drop much of his levity and replace it with gravity and respect.  "Tho Debrani-ji, kaisa lag raha hai aapko Vegas me aakar?" he would ask from a respectful distance.  She is an elder hey, show some respect bro!
  9. If the hunk had been dropped straight from Mars, did not know the rules of engagement, and tried to suggestively rub his crotch against Debrani's hips - well, let us just say it would not end well for him, 'redness of cheek'-wise, or 'continuity of paycheck'-wise.
And of course, the final reason why a schoolbus driving grandmother named Debra will not be found on the stage of a risque cabaret show in India -
  • 10. There would be no risque cabaret show in India.  The self-appointed keepers of our morality and 'Indian traditions' would burn the tent down after the first show.
So there you have it - the Top 10 reasons I thought of - in the process ruining a perfectly wonderful show of Zumanity for myself.  Sorry girls!  Maybe next time.

As I mentioned at the top of the list though - all generalizations are false.  Case in point - The Vagina Monologues has had an extremely successful run in Mumbai - at the aforementioned Prithvi among other places.  So maybe it isn't India that has a mental block - just my outdated image of it.


  1. With reference to point 2 in your list of points:
    The maid that works at my house is a grandmother,lives with her married kids who earn enough and are repeatedly asking her to stop working and relax. She keeps refusing because she wants her independence.
    Also, as she says, in our empty houses, while she is at work no one talks to her and she can ignore the world and just do her work and relax a bit after that; whereas at home there's a lot of khit-khit.
    Some signs of change, wot !

    Though, I agree, most of your generalisations ring true.

    And I have to check this - have you seen 'Vagina Monologues' yet ? You should, it's brilliant. The book is quite depressing in bits, but the play adopts a much lighter tone. Just don't sit in the front row though, then the actors look you in the eye as they say their lines !


  2. J- I would die of embarrassement and I am not old enough to be a grandmother or a bus driver. :) Have you seen Jubilee? That is a very traditional, topless revue at Bally's. Lots of feathers and headdresses. I saw it and my take away was that I wanted more boob for my dollar :) It's all skinny, tiny dancers. Now the group of Japanese businessmen who clapped adoringly after each number probably got a lot of boob for their Yen!

    On another note, have you read and seen the Hunger Games?


  3. Bit oldfashioned ,I would nt ever want this in India.Am outdated opinion is always in minority and may be these are the things to come along with the consumerism boom ,but all this just proves one thing-anything that has to do innuendos is popular.

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