I’ve been watching a show from India on Netflix called “Little Things.” The episodes are very short, basically glimpses into the life of a sweet young cohabitating couple, Kavya and Dhruv, in Mumbai. In the grand scheme of tv show scriptwriting, nothing much happens, which is what I like about it. After all, that’s real life; mundane things make us happy or grumpy, and small gestures and acts of self regard restore us to a sense of contentment and equilibrium.
Other stuff I notice and appreciate: Kavya’s over the top curly tresses. Thank you, we need more examples of what Indian women on screen can look like. Kangana can’t keep pulling this wagon by herself… This isn’t trivial because representation matters.
Also, Dhruv’s temper. He’s got one, and has a tendency to raise his voice, and also sulk like a baby. But because he isn’t a predator on women’s emotional labor, he makes sure it’s his job to manage his emotions. That isn’t trivial either. We can all be better. In one scene, Dhruv has been pouting all evening and doesn’t want to attend a party, but he still keeps checking with Kavya if going on her own is okay with her, safety wise. That’s progress, rather than protective caveman behavior till you’re in a mood, then abandoning girl because you want to punish her with your absence. It might be nicer if the character was written to be more placid, but overindulged Indian guys learning to rein in their sense of entitlement is so much more powerful.
Then there’s the push-pull of how empowering financial self reliance is/how soul destroying building a career can be. Related to this theme, how refreshing it is to watch a show that isn’t about women marrying before they’ve had a chance to embark properly on careers, even if those careers can feel like labyrinths sometimes. I can imagine the show’s creators deciding at one point how unrealistic it is to show a two-career household running this smoothly and the house being so pristine without intervention, so they introduced a cleaning lady who packs their lunches and generally proxy mothers them. Whatever we may feel about white collar people celebrating their successes while paying only lip service to how poorer women pick up after them, the show wouldn’t be even a bit believable without this portrayal.
I’m amused by how much managing one’s social media persona features in the show, but it does. Not going to say more because I’ve gone on long enough about generalities.
What I really wanted to focus on for today is an episode called “Milk Cake.” Dhruv’s school friend Sandeep visits from Delhi, bringing the aforementioned, nostalgia inducing sweet treat, and a host of boyhood memories. He chastises Dhruv for losing touch with friends, including not knowing that one of the guys is dead.
As their time together unfolds, the adult gaps between the two guys start to become an issue. Sandeep does that show of respect, calling Kavya “bhabhi” while also using foul language and making crude sexual references around her, which Dhruv has to keep managing so it won’t get out of hand. Sandeep makes a disparaging remark about poor people, and is shocked that Dhruv eats beef. He doesn’t believe in climate change, which yeah, would make my spine itch too. And then he tosses out the remark that he would never rent a house to a gay couple, since the thought of gay sex makes him sick. While Dhruv is still processing his shock, Sandeep takes him to task for not marrying Kavya, with all the patriarchal implications of what that makes her, being shacked up and all.
Dhruv starts to question the friendship, and I strongly disagreed with the outcome the show arrived at. He tells Kavya he would rather have fewer friends, and one must ask oneself what value people are adding to our present, rather than hang onto outmoded and stifling relationships out of nostalgia. Kavya says what lots of consensus-builders might: don’t break bonds based on topical disagreements; old ties matter; express conflicting views without walking away. Etc. In the end, Dhruv seems to arrive at communicating in the old way with Sandeep, making himself smaller so that no challenging conversations will mar the visit. And they part with affection, most likely knowing they won’t ever be super close again, but not having burned the way back to each other.
I sat for a while, probably looking like a cat that drank curdled milk. After all the barriers our little family has had to jump across so we can stand for something other than going along to get along, I don’t have patience for this kind of soft enabling of bigotry. I don’t want to be anyone’s safe space to express the putrid stench of anti-LGBT or any other regressive views. If tolerating those views is what it takes to have more tangible support, I would rather go it with fewer people/new people. We already are anyway.
The same goes for how communities and individuals talk and act about autism. With a lot of pain and internal struggle, I made choices to step away from spaces that were not willing to do more work to be allies. Sometimes nothing else has taken their place, and I’ve had to make my peace with that loss.
Many of us don’t come from progressive backgrounds, so becoming who we need to be has been like walking on shards. I cannot compromise this journey by the company I keep.
I’m not unsympathetic to how people don’t change unless circumstances force us to. But after we start to morph, everyone we keep in our lives has to be a choice which adds to our light. And we need people who feel similarly not to leave us hanging out there by ourselves.
If you support us, say it. If we hold events or we rally, show up. If there’s something to sign or vote on that helps us, do that. And if people make disparaging remarks about our causes, speak up. Don’t go all silent because it’s easier. You fear losing your communities, but you contribute to the losses we face by your silence.
As people like to say, thanks for coming to my TED talk!
“Milk Cake.” Little Things, season 2, episode 1, Dice Media, 5 Oct. 2018. Netflix.