Sindhu Vee

The long road to my fes­ti­val de­but

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Contents -

‘IS this all go­ing in the ar­ti­cle?” Sindhu Vee and I have been talk­ing for an hour now. About her peri­patetic life, her for­mi­da­ble, pos­si­bly scary In­dian mother, her love of ac­tor Carol Bur­nett (she’s a woman of taste), her very short-lived ca­reer as an Yves Saint Lau­rent model, her aca­demic progress in both Eng­land and the United States of Amer­ica, her years as an in­vest­ment banker (even though she ad­mits she is ter­ri­ble at maths), be­com­ing a mother and her new life as a co­me­dian.

In pass­ing we have also dis­cussed the In­dian-ness of Jawa­har­lal Nehru, the first prime min­is­ter of In­dia (“he wished he was an English aris­to­crat”), the maths teacher who was the “most hand­some man” she had ever met (not her hus­band, it might be noted), how she ap­plied for 18 con­sul­tancy firms and got 19 re­jec­tions (“Some­one heard I was ap­ply­ing and just re­jected me with­out me send­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion. I’ve never worked this mys­tery out”), ar­ranged mar­riages, the real­ity of love and sum­mers in Den­mark.

And we’ve yet to get to her de­ci­sion to get on­stage in the first place (even though she had never seen stand-up live), her dog named af­ter the credit crunch (Crunchie) or the time her mum slapped her across the face in front of ev­ery­one in the bank she was work­ing in. But that’s all on the way.

The thing is Vee (it’s short for Venkata­narayanan) is a nat­u­ral-born sto­ry­teller. And this month she de­buts her first hour-long show at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe. I doubt she will have any prob­lems hav­ing enough ma­te­rial. “When it’s your de­but hour your whole life is there,” she says about the prospect. Hmm. I fear an hour won’t be long enough.

These days Vee, who’s in her for­ties, lives in Lon­don with three chil­dren (two of them teenagers: “That’s im­por­tant, so some peo­ple have some sym­pa­thy for me”), the dog and a Dan­ish hus­band who works in fi­nance.

The dis­tance she has trav­elled is huge and it’s en­ter­tain­ing lis­ten­ing to her chart the course of that jour­ney. Put your seat belt on. “I was born in New Delhi. That mat­ters to no one out­side the peo­ple in Delhi.”

The sec­ond of two chil­dren, Vee’s fa­ther worked in the civil ser­vice and her mother was a teacher for a time. But Vee was raised by her “ayah”. The word means nanny, “but nan­nies are more posh”, Vee ex­plains.

“She was from Nepal. She’d never seen elec­tric light. She used to tie me to her back and do ev­ery­thing. I used to think she and I worked for these three peo­ple. I called her ‘amah’, which means mother. My first lan­guage was Nepalese.”

But that re­la­tion­ship came to an end when Vee was four-and-a-half and her fa­ther was posted to the Philip­pines.

“I’m very close to my mother, but my mother is very no-non­sense, bor­der­ing on bru­tal­ity. She recog­nised that it would be very com­pli­cated ex­plain­ing what was go­ing to hap­pen, so they drove me to the air­port and then re­moved me from my amah and said: ‘We’ll see you in a few years.’ That did not go well with amah.

“Amah passed out. My mother was like: This is so in­con­ve­nient’.”

On the plane Vee de­vel­oped a stam­mer. “It’s clear to me now that I had an ex­pe­ri­ence of ab­so­lutely un­con­di­tional love for those four-and-a-half years and I think that’s been the mak­ing of me. There’s a tiny part of me that has al­ways been sta­ble.”

In the Philip­pines she lived in an “Amer­i­can bub­ble”, un­til the fam­ily even­tu­ally re­turned to In­dia. To Luc­know, which is where Vee was raised, be­fore at­tend­ing a “hard­core Amer­i­can board­ing school” in the Hi­malayas. When she got just a B in maths her mum took her out of the school and brought her to Delhi.

“Bad tim­ing. I was 16. Even though I was an In­dian teenager I was still a teenager.”

She fell in with the two bad girls in her class. They would skip school and her new friends would smoke, take Val­ium and mix gin and sugar shots. Vee?

“I did their home­work for them. Can we just stop for a mo­ment and recog­nise what a nerd I was? Oh my God. I look back and I’m shocked I ever got laid. I was such an ubergeek.”

When she was threat­ened with be­ing ex­pelled her mother stepped in. “My mother looked at me and said: ‘Let me tell you one thing. If you don’t stop be­ing friends with these girls I will kill you. I will be happy be­cause I don’t want this kind of non­sense off­spring in the world wast­ing ev­ery­one’s time’.

“So then we cut back on the bulls*** and I got very good grades.”

Still, by now, a pat­tern was de­vel­op­ing. Vee was a bit re­bel­lious (though only a bit), but also hard­work­ing. She is still friends with one of the bad girls.

At the time the plan was to go to univer­sity in Delhi, join the civil ser­vice and have an ar­ranged mar­riage. That’s what her mother had told her would hap­pen. But part of her wanted a space,

a time, to her­self and study­ing abroad of­fered that. To get that she had to boost her CV. She started work­ing for the World Wildlife Fund, worked on a WWF film fes­ti­val and was spot­ted by the or­gan­iser of an Yves Saint Lau­rent fash­ion show. She was asked to model.

It sounded ridicu­lous to her. She had al­ways been told she wasn’t good look­ing. “It’s part of the cul­ture. You’ve got to be fair and pe­tite. I was dark and 5ft 10in.”

And yet she was asked to open the show. And then she was asked to go to Bom­bay for the next show. But she didn’t have the self-con­fi­dence and her fa­ther said no. She didn’t mind. She was just happy it was over. “I don’t know that I wanted to model, frankly. I wanted to do some­thing that had heft.”

Mark that word.

In 1991, she won a schol­ar­ship to study at Ox­ford. “It’s a phe­nom­e­nal place to study. Ev­ery­thing I read about it says ev­ery­one who goes to Ox­ford is a tw*t. Fine. But no one talks about the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion. Ox­ford hasn’t got this far by be­ing s***. I had a great time.”

Mostly in the li­brary, it should be said. “I never went in a pub for two years,” she says. “I was still su­per fun. I wasn’t emod­e­pressed, ly­ing in a cor­ner.”

She went row­ing. She played bas­ket­ball. The foot­lights weren’t part of her story, though. “Com­edy was some­thing peo­ple who weren’t se­ri­ous did.”

Af­ter Ox­ford she went to Amer­ica to con­tinue her po­lit­i­cal stud­ies. First at McGill and then in Chicago. The plan was to be­come a pro­fes­sor.

Her mother kept find­ing men any­where she went for her to meet. “You need to get mar­ried be­cause other­wise how can I die in peace?” she would tell her daugh­ter.

Vee fi­nally told her she wasn’t go­ing to have an ar­ranged mar­riage when she was 25. “She was like: ‘Are you les­bian? I don’t mind. You can be Mrs and Mrs. Just marry.’”

Vee didn’t want to marry. But she did have boyfriends. And a de­sire to be an aca­demic. Her plan was to do a PhD about the ideational ba­sis of the In­dian state. But her poor maths kept get­ting in the way. That’s when she met the hand­some maths teacher. Reader, she dated him. But only af­ter she passed re­me­dial maths. It took more than one at­tempt.

Not that that was enough. She found her­self stuck in the States wthout ten­ure, and she re­alised she was go­ing to have to find a job. Other­wise she was go­ing to have to go back to In­dia and that wasn’t an op­tion.

So, de­spite her lousy way with num­bers, she ended up in in­vest­ment bank­ing. Ob­vi­ously.

“What banks are very good at is tak­ing raw tal­ent and nat­u­ral in­tel­li­gence and they Ap­pren­tice the s*** out of you.

“I loved my bank­ing job. Oh my God, it was so much fun. And there’s that whole big swing­ing dick vibe that goes with bank­ing. ‘I’m a banker, I’m mak­ing a ton of cash and we go on great hol­i­days’.”

Then she met her hus­band, fell in love, got preg­nant, be­came a mother and that changed ev­ery­thing. “I had a baby and stopped giv­ing a s*** about bank­ing. It dropped off me so hard.

“I was go­ing to get a nanny, like ev­ery­one in bank­ing. What I didn’t know was you can re­ally love your child in a way that means you can­not spend 16 hours a day away from them.”

Two other chil­dren fol­lowed. But she had gone from a high-pow­ered, hard-drive ca­reer to burp­ing ba­bies. And that was prob­lem­atic.

“Women who gave up re­ally hard­core driven am­bi­tious ca­reers to stay at home with ba­bies, part of them starts to die. There is such a pre­mium in the mod­ern west­ern world for peo­ple to work. ‘What do you do?’ This is what we ask peo­ple.

“But when you ask a mother who used to be able to an­swer that ques­tion: ‘I do mil­lion-dol­lar deals and I just bought a house for my mother and fa­ther.’ And then she goes from that to: ‘I mash bananas.’ There is some cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance for that woman that can­not be eas­ily swal­lowed.”

When she had her third child, she says: “I re­alised you have a quota of puree you are will­ing to make for kids.”

She was look­ing for some­thing to

It’s very easy to get on stage and blab­ber if some­one gives you a mi­cro­phone. But to re­ally con­nect with peo­ple ... I can­not think of any­thing more re­ward­ing than that

do. Peo­ple had al­ways told her she was funny. When she met her friends they would ask her to tell them about the time her mum slapped her on the face in the bank. “I said, laugh­ing, ‘Mum, you can’t do that here.’ She said: ‘Why? You call police?’.”

Even­tu­ally, for want of some­thing to do, she went to a work­shop called Funny Women.

She spells out her think­ing. “It is the week­end. I am bored out of my mind. If I go, there will be peo­ple who are funny and be­cause it is Eng­land some­one will say: ‘Do you want to go to the pub later?’. I went along and it was women sit­ting in a cir­cle. ‘F***, this is like ther­apy’.

“And the first ques­tion asked was: ‘When I call on you, tell us what your mother would say about the fact that you are here to­day.’ Talk about win­ning the lot­tery.

“Out of my voice came the way I talk about my mother. I said the three things she al­ways says. ‘Of course Sindhu would be here to­day. She’s over tall, she’s over dark and she’s not very bright.’ The ef­fect on the other peo­ple was huge.”

Still, she wasn’t tak­ing it se­ri­ously, had to be per­suaded to at­tend the Funny Women gig, walked back­stage to be told she was do­ing a five-minute set which she wasn’t ex­pect­ing.

But she went on­stage, talked Dan­ish to a girl from Green­land and told the story about her mum ask­ing if she was a les­bian to a bunch of les­bians in the au­di­ence and went straight to the semi­fi­nal in the 2014 Funny Women Awards.

“I didn’t get to the fi­nal but, I tell you what, I re­mem­ber stand­ing on that stage think­ing: ‘This is it. I can never not do this’.”

At this point she didn’t know who Ed­die Iz­zard was and had never heard of Billy Con­nolly. The only stand-up she’d seen be­fore go­ing on­stage was an Ed­die Mur­phy DVD. So, she did what she al­ways does. She did her home­work. “I was very fo­cused.”

And then at some point she started hav­ing dreams of her child­hood in the Philip­pines. About telling jokes to adults in her night­gown. She even­tu­ally men­tioned the dreams to her mother.

“That’s not a dream,” her mum told her. “That hap­pened to you. We would have par­ties and you would not go to sleep. You would go and hide in the guest bath­room and when peo­ple go to bath­room you would say: ‘You can­not come in. First, I have to tell you a joke.’

“And some peo­ple were go­ing to go urine in their pants be­cause you had a stam­mer and the joke was tak­ing 20 min­utes.”

Cir­cles and pat­terns. We have trav­elled all the way around. Time for one fi­nal ques­tion, Sindhu. About com­edy. Does it have heft?

“So much heft. It’s very easy to get on stage and blab­ber if some­one gives you a mi­cro­phone. But to re­ally con­nect with peo­ple, to tell them a joke that you know is com­ing and for that mo­ment when you are both on the same page and the laugh is there, I can­not think of any­thing more re­ward­ing than that.”

Sindhu Vee: Sand­hog is per­form­ing at the Plea­sance Court­yard – The At­tic at 4.30pm un­til Au­gust 26.

Sindhu Vee de­buts her first hour-long show at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe this year. Given her abil­ity to spin a good yarn, there is lit­tle doubt that she’ll have enough ma­te­rial

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.