Fandry and the ‘meaningful’ cinema

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For quite some time now, Netflix had been nudging me to watch ‘Fandry‘, I guess based on my viewing history. I took the bait after Ratna Pathak Shah mentioned the film during a recent but rare interview on a news channel. Fandry, according to her, is one of the must-watch films coming out of meaningful Indian cinema.

Fandry came out in 2014 and is the directorial debut of the now famous Nagraj Manjule, best known for his massive hit Sairat that released in 2016. Sairat has scored some important firsts: First Marathi film to gross Rs.100 crore worldwide. First Indian film to record in Hollywood – its soundtrack includes Western classical pieces recorded at the Sony Scoring Stage. The film’s music directors are a duo of brothers – Ajay and Atul Gogavale, who started their careers with dhol-tasha groups, used during the Ganesh Utsav, one of the most significant festivals in Maharashtra. These are grassroots men.

Nagraj Manjule’s roots lie in the stories he tells on the screen, and this is obvious to anyone who watches Fandry and Sairat. An aggressive caste dialogue takes place throughout the narrative. There is love, and then there is despair. Manjule grew up in Jeur village in the Solapur district of Maharashtra. He always wanted to be a filmmaker. Success kissed him and now he lives a hallowed life. He is, truly, a self-made man who made it big with ‘meaningful cinema’. His kind of success is rare.

This brings us to…

Meaningful cinema.

It has the gravitas, doesn’t it? With an extra grrr… in it. Meaningful. It smells different. Feels different. “I watch meaningful cinema,” there, no more questions; I have arrived. Today, this is the yesteryears’ equivalent of “I watch only Hollywood films”.

Ask me –  I just watched Fandry and I think it was okay. I was fascinated, moved even, by the way the Sairat story ends. Versus all those hours spent watching films like Dabangg, and Singham, and Ready, or Andaz Apna Apna. This felt different. How different? Sairat is QSQT (Qayamat se qayamat tak) based on caste and not class. Fandry… Is Bobby gone bad, based on caste and not class or religion. Fans of this ‘meaningful’ cinema will probably outrage at the comparisons made.

After all, Sairat wouldn’t be the same without the intense detailing of its characters – a spunky, multi-talented boy called Parshya and Archie, a girl who is courageous, outspoken, and unconventional – she rides an Enfield. Their love story appears far more ‘meaningful’ than QSQT ever could. Why?

But think about this: In both Fandry and Sairat, the definition of ‘love’ is pretty thin. Boy sees girl. Boy keeps staring at her. Boy tries to talk to her. Boy looks for situations through which he can get noticed by the girl, or get close to her. Girl gives in. Girl is taken in by the fact that the boy has shown some daring by approaching her. For the boy, the line between machismo and stupidity is very thin. There are innumerable stories of this sort.

In Fandry, Jambya the boy manages to talk to his Shalu only in his dreams, while in Sairat, things get a little more daring – there is an actual exchange before the girl decides she loves this audacious backward caste boy Parshya. Fandry’s Jambya is a schoolboy. Sairat’s Parshya is in college. Hardly the age when people try to find meaning.

In QSQT, it’s the same thing. In Bobby, same again.

In Hindi songs, love is often described as a malady, a madness, a condition where pain is the only constant. So does Jambya of Fandry in his letter to his beloved Shalu say: “I can give up anything for you, even my life.” Said every Indian romeo ever. Where is the meaning, pray tell?

I found meaning in Salman’s ‘Ready’ where he says he’s looking for a girl who is strong, smart, and dependable. In ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ where a millionaire’s daughter falls in love with a guy who is a nobody, and despite being tricked by him. In ‘English Vinglish’, where just about every frame is superb, and it’s a mature pondering over the meaning of love.

Who makes these distinctions for movie-goers? This is ‘meaningful’ and that is ‘popular’. And the twain shall never meet.

If meaningful can become popular, as in the case of Sairat, so can the popular be meaningful, as in the case of Dil Chahta Hai, the ham scene in the end notwithstanding. And again, if a handful of people tell others this is meaningful and that isn’t, what’s it called other than elitism? Do these people understand that pure entertainment actually means a lot to a large chunk of people?

Maybe when these people say meaning, they mean a movie set that is by far indistinguishable from what we see in real life. Lesser the escapism, greater the meaning. And meaning is good. The opposite, bad. Maybe that’s how Nagraj Manjule is such a powerful story-teller. Because, at times it so happens that those who live close to a broken system find it extremely difficult to stand away from it.

Read here the story of Sunita Manjule, Nagraj Manjule’s ex-wife. If it is true what she says about her 15-year marriage, one will have no choice but wonder. Your search for meaning might end in one definitive answer: that the powerful exploit the weak. The context may change: class, caste, religion, gender, race. The story really doesn’t.

The search for meaning, begins and ends in our subjective experience.

 

 

Jaa Simran Jaa, Jee Ley Apni Zindagi

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Praf, short for Praful Patel, is a 30 year old divorcee, living in Atlanta, US, only child of Gujarati parents who have owned a general store all their lives. She’s holding down a job as a housekeeping staff in a hotel. She not only has a past but a post-past as well – her ex-boyfriend happens to be her boss at the hotel.

Praf wants to make money, create financial security for herself, a craft almost perfected by Gujjus in general, but Praf is different – her aims are the same but her means are not. Self-control is not her thing. This Gujju gal has the balls – or shall we say vagina – to take risks. Okay, playing Baccarat (without knowing anything about the game) just to pursue a guy you’ve spotted inside a Las Vegas casino cannot be called guts. But then, the Gujju gal doesn’t even have the $25 she needs to enter the game at the table. Our lady does a James Bond, like it or not. She also gets the guy.

That’s where all the trouble begins. The addiction to gambling, losing money, trouble. Wanting to win it all back but no money to stake. Trouble. Using up all her savings just to play a few more hands, no luck. Trouble. Losing all money, landing in the hands of a loan shark, Trouble. That’s what Praf is. She doesn’t hedge her bets, doesn’t listen to her parents, doesn’t settle down with a boy to make sev-tameta nu shaak for the rest of her life, no wisdom coming with age. Instead, she goes on to single-handedly rob a few banks to earn the nickname Lipstick Bandit.

The character of Praful Patel is inspired by the story of the ‘Bombshell bandit’, Sandeep Kaur, who went on a 5-week long bank robbing spree because she was pushed to the brink to pay off loan sharks she had used to fuel her gambling addiction. One has to say, the story is interesting. Has it been executed well? Yes, mostly.

Kangana is the queen of nuance. She’s as usual, great. The performances are good. The story has its dense details – a close-knit but unhappy family. A difficult, tension-filled father-daughter relationship. Sweet moments with the boy Praf’s parents are trying to set her up. All good. But the film lacks the aha moment – when you experience the character so strongly you identify with her emotions. ‘English Vinglish‘ was full of such moments, so was ‘Queen’, to name a few. They had a very strong screenplay. Also, Simran felt a tad bit longer than it absolutely needed to be.

Now for the ham scenes: Luckily in the case of Simran, all the ham scenes happened outside of  and after the movie. I say luckily because otherwise, the film would have been that much longer and would have had to somehow feature Barkha Dutt and Rajat Sharma. That was me popping the lighter vein. One thing though: In terms of matter and gravity, I daresay the ham scenes overshadowed the movie itself. Kangana is an unbelievably strong contender for the solid ‘hero’ crown and she doesn’t even need to earn it. She has proved she has a vagina, and her films are the least of it. And as far as item numbers go, why can’t they be more like the AIB video/song?

In that sense, I’m rooting for every Praf, Tanu, Datto, and Rani that Kangana plays.

Now for a miss: There was much talk of Kangana adding this ‘sexual’ ‘edge’ to her character. That Praf actually likes sex. I would have thought that puts her in the ‘human’ category but in the Indian film industry and the larger Indian society, this is what makes news. You can probably hear a dilliwali aunty (no offence meant to Dilli, Dilliwalas, and aunties – it’s the combination here) scoffing a “Haw!! This girl likes sex!”

If you’re going to the hall thinking you’ll see some exciting moment there, say hello to disappointment. It’s a bit scene where Praf likes a guy, pursues him quite decently, I’d say ladylike manner but that would run afoul of the definition of ladylike. Ladylike and sex don’t mix. To be a lady, step 1: you shun your human nature for the divine. Anyway, Praf takes the guy to bed. No great shakes there, as you will find out. But, this ‘controversy’ is also why Simran is larger than life as a movie. It has set a lot of people talking. And some people squirming after being kneed in the nuts.

That this sort of thing is one of the firsts in the industry is probably why I’d give kudos to Simran. Thank you Praf, for being there. And thank you Simran, for being there.

Simran

 

In India, No Means ‘Definitely, Maybe’.

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Indian men enjoy the notorious reputation of having their own special dialect when the talk is happening with women, whatever be the language. The Indian male’s brain interprets ‘NO’ coming from a female as ‘Definitely, Maybe’. No matter the language / spelling / tone / delivery, if you ask them what they heard, it’s some form of ‘yes’.

Today, we – me and a female friend of mine – stumbled upon one such specimen. At Sarnath, of all places. It was the bunch of tour guides around this calm, serene, almost secluded place. Maybe the exceptional heat of this month of August had acted as a contributing factor. Even so, there were a handful of people around.

So, imagine our surprise being flagged by a bunch of casually dressed men before we had even entered the vicinity. As our car approached, we saw a bunch of men waving their hands vigorously. They then took to tapping the anatomy of our vehicle, which was in motion no less. Of course, our driver whose very second day it was driving for a cab aggregator, was no less surprised, and stopped. Before even our GPS could announce that we had arrived at our destination, here were tour guides asking us to contract their services. We fended them off and continued to a large gate to what seemed to be a tourist place.

We did not know we were going to have to keep fending them off. If I had ever seen a ‘Never Give Up’ attitude practiced in utmost profundity, it was here. At Sarnath. 1:30 pm after the noon. In sweltering heat and absolutely intolerable humidity.

From the moment we stepped out of our car right in front of the gate to the Sarnath temple, these men took to diligently following us. They suggested we hire them for a paltry sum of Rs.20, to have us trail them around the monuments and listen to them talk. And to that we said, ‘No’.

Entering the temple premises, a garden welcomed us, divided by a paved walkway, lined by a rectangular channel filled with water in which lotus buds bloomed, the channel precisely labelled as a ‘pond’. In fact, the channels were sub-divided into four-ish sections and were individually identified as ponds as well. To me, personally, the signboards calling these ponds were of the ‘Ce N’est Pas Une Pipe’ variety but there was a purple lotus blooming in one of the ‘Ponds’ and that distracted me from my art critic exercise. Concluding that if the lotus was happy it being a pond, so was I.

Lotus at sarnath

I had a feeling that we wouldn’t make much use of the tour guide hollering at us from behind, trying yet another way to persuade us to spend an incredulously paltry sum of Rs.20 on him.

To his credit, though, he explained to us that some organisation was already paying them a salary so he wouldn’t ask for a heavier sum. It was twenty rupees, that’s all. The green tender coconut we would go on to have later on cost Rs.40 a pop.

But, it was still a ‘No’ and that seemingly doubled his confidence that we would give in. We wanted him to leave. We had already spent a trick we often use to ward of beggars – ignore and pretend not to see them so they’ll go. It was time for something new – try to lose the Guide. I’ve seen a few James Bond movies in my time. This was as good a time as any to use it.

Standing Buddha in Sarnath

While looking like we were headed straight toward the 35-ft tall statue of Lord Buddha, we took a sudden right toward the Thai temple, which sports Thai architecture. However, after getting there, we decide to look at a number of idols of the Buddha adjoining the temple area. Approaching the clearing from another direction was another tour guide, dispensing his services to a family following closely. We heard that it was a former Thai PM who had inaugurated the place, and that all the statues there were from Thailand.

reenactment of enlightenment sarnath.jpg

That last bit sounded unlikely and Internet baba hasn’t helped much in this regard.

What I do know now after an elaborate Internet search a day later is that the standing Buddha statue towering over the premises took 14 years to construct, consists of 815 stones, and cost Rs. 2 crore. This statue was inaugurated by former Thai PM in 2011.

The other statues were unlikely to have anything to do with Thailand, IMO. On some, the gold paint was chipping away, to reveal an underlying layer of cement if I am not wrong. Even the laughing Buddha in gold could do with looking a little more laughing Buddha-esque. The pink colour around the place makes me think of Bahujan Samaj Party’s pink reign.

While the guide’s wards incessantly took selfies at what was a re-enactment of Lord Buddha’s first sermon ever, we soaked in the view. Enlightenment on one end, copious perspiration on the other. We could see ‘our’ man in the distance, waiting for us to retrace our steps into his area of influence.

Off to the Vipassana temple right ahead, we spent a few minutes wondering about the absolute peace we felt there. The Guide not inclined to talk here. There was only the flash of our co-travellers’ selfie cameras as they posed in front of the Buddha sitting in deep meditation. We could get used to that.

Once out and towards the standing Buddha, we found ourselves again in the path of ours-but-not-yet Guide. It was still a ‘No’. After the third ‘No’, it felt like a different kind of temple run, the video game – Dodge tour guides anywhere you see them. Saying ‘No’ gives them more lives.

Our co-travellers were now immersed in a political debate centered on the price of tomatoes, with the guide noting that the ghastly fruit was selling for Rs.80 a kg – a travesty. We moved on, having nothing to offer other than a nod of commiseration.

Once at the Buddha’s feet, you felt a certain calm. Even at that ungodly hour of 2:00 pm-ish, there were dozens of incense sticks lit with prayers, hope, reverence. It wafts in the air, the humidity adding a certain gravitas.

In the background, a busload of travelers got off their giant 16-wheeler and guides standing there eyed the lot. We thought that was ‘advantage us’. How wrong we were!

Our tour of the calm Thai temple over, we stepped off the property, only to be directly targeted by a fresh set of guides, forcing us to think on our feet. We decided to try the museum up ahead and started hurrying. One of the guides started following us, enthusiastically trying to convince us that as tourists, we were completely lost without his able guidance (words are mine not his; the idea, though, totally his). Trying to lose him, we ended up on a marriage lawn, workmen tidying up after a wedding. We still had the guide on our tail and as we turned around to get out, he appeared right in front of us telling us he knew a shortcut to the museum through the marriage lawn.

By which time, my friend had had it. As with men, so with tour guides, one can say. A simple ‘No’ is quite simply inadequate. We told him to get away from us, stop following us, and make himself scarce, that too delivered in Hindi in as proper a UP accent as she could muster.

Finally, we could see that he was amused. But more importantly, he decided to leave us in peace. The gentleman beat a retreat, leaving us free to roam about among the ruins of Sarnath in this boiling heat. Free to not know of all the amazing stories he held close to his chest. Free to read the display boards and plaques in mutual silence. Amidst those ruins that speak of some very significant moments in the development of the Indian civilisation, our experience stood as a commentary, an affirmation of a die-hard tradition of the Indian culture : that more than anything else, ‘No’ indicates a point of bargain.

Saying No to tea at the neighbour’s is just a way of communicating that we want them to ask us a fourth, a fifth, and a sixth time so we can ensure that proper social conduct has been followed on both ends before adding that they absolutely must not fry those ‘pakoras’.

Saying No to a beggar at traffic signal is having him follow us over the next 80-meter stretch before guilting us into giving money.

Saying No and walking away from a roadside seller of anything is to say that we want him to come up with a lower price.

Saying no to a well-wishing family member or friend trying to help is to say we want them to but are afraid of being seen as too direct or honest to ask for it and genuinely appreciate it; we’d much rather place the burden of accountability on them, even for doing us a favour.

Saying no to a child making mischief is to test her commitment to her craft and her tolerance to scolding, which may not always be merely verbal.

Saying No to men leering at you is taken an invitation to pursue – there are umpteen Bollywood blockbusters that would make these loafers feel vindicated.

Saying No in much of India in most of the situations requires a certain vehemence or some deft cloak-and-daggery. Even on a super hot, sultry day spent amidst centuries old ruins. 

Can we still be Friends?

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This post is dedicated to old school, classic friendships. Friends who call, care, and criticise; friends who share our real lives even in the hustlebustle of work and away from the busy lanes of #socialmedia.

Friends who, no matter what your actual relationship with them – spouse, parent, sibling, colleague – make life pop out of the touchscreen.

Because…

Once upon a time, ‘Growing Up’ was a lot simpler. You kinda transitioned into a role, donned the mantle, and had trophies – family, kids, home, car – to show for it.

You also dressed ‘adult’, you talked ‘boring’, you watched news while you ate. Your classic, old-school friends you grew up with, or your chaddi-buddies as we Indians say in Hinglish, took the backseat.

You became friends by association with friends of your children’s friends at school. You worried about too many things other than yourself.

When you met your chaddi-buddy, you stared at the other trying to look for traces of your old friend, wondering if they were doing the same. They are the ones you relied on when tragedy struck. They didn’t need to see your brave face.

Above all else, you relied on them for understanding. You knew they understood your “growing up” needs and you understood theirs. They too were on a similar track, of course.

They are your home away from home, like your parents’ furniture – dated and worn-out, but comfortable as hell.

 

This new age has changed that for us. For most of us now, it is one or two kids max – if at all that (there’s a growing tribe of Double Income No Kids); jobs are a necessity and we’re constantly knee-deep in our efforts to “keep up” at work, family life, social life, travel, personal goals, education.

You want:

More likes. More shares. More followers. More pay. More peace.

To get fitter. Smarter. Better.

To find more time. Find more opportunities (to make money, to network, to cut expenses…).

It’s not easy. Not even with touch-screens or tablet computers. If anything, it has added one more layer to be screened when working out friendships.

 

As far as friendship goes, #socialmedia has changed its landscape.

Facebook started out as a social media networking site by appropriating the term ‘friend’ when it conveyed a warm… fuzzy… feeling. Today, with nearly a third of the world’s population on it now, Facebook is a social media marketing behemoth.

Facebook is now a destination of choice for advertisers, sellers, pollsters, newscasters, opinion-makers, lobbyists, artists, and… everyone wants to be friends here. Hey, it’s what friends do.

You’re not alone if you don’t do your friend ‘things’ there anymore. Let’s face it, nowadays, there are friends and there are ‘Facebook Friends’ – you may have never even met some of these but they do ‘like’ your 5-year-old kid’s birthday party pics. They are important for ‘networking purposes’, and moreover, you like what they share.

It’s marketing speak spread wide. Got too many friends to fit into a profile? Open a Page and try followers.

Away from all the noise, however, classic friendships are back where they belong. On our speed dials, contact lists, phone calls, personal WhatsApp messages, travel trips, across the table under a cosy home.

If there is a right way to do #socialmedia and #socialmediamarketing, there is a right way to do #friendships too. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Lipstick Under My Burkha

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I have to thank the current watchman of the Censor Board of Film Certification in India Pahlaj Nihalani for pointing me to the film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ (Lipstick henceforth) because otherwise, I might have avoided it.

Just like me, I am sure a lot many women (and men) were egged on to watch this movie after the fact that Mr. Nihalani had previously refused to certify it because he found it ‘lady-oriented’ and that it had dared to portray women’s ‘fantasy above life’.

When this controversy erupted, many memes emerged on social media, challenging Mr. Nihalani for using ‘lady-oriented’ as an explanation.

After watching Lipstick last week, I want to ask him what led him to think it REALLY was ‘lady-oriented’?

Was it Plabita Borthakur playing Rihanna Abidi, a typical college-going girl-next-door desperately struggling to fit in with the well-heeled ‘hep’ crowd? If so, I can’t even start counting the number of movies that have such characters.

Or maybe it was Aahana Kumra playing Leela, and her muddled love life – engaged to be married to one and in love (and to Mr. Nihalani’s chagrin, a sexual relationship) with another. Sure, we have truly come a long way in our portrayal of sex scenes, gone are the days when you saw flower bulbs slowly siding up to occupy the frame. Or, if it was a low-budget movie, then the camera panned up to reveal a ceiling fan.

Nowadays, sex is portrayed somewhat like it really is, busy, noisy, shabby, and often not pretty. Was that the issue here? I think not. For then, so many recent movies, just to name a few, Delhi Belly, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Ram Leela, etc. wouldn’t have had it easy. But they did. So it has to be something else. Could it be that Leela actually desired another man, and had no qualms about it? But then, I have to ask, what separates this Leela of Lipstick and that Leela of Ram Leela?  So no, it probably wasn’t that either.

In any case, how is this lady-oriented? Both the Leelas were all about the men they loved. Extremely comfortable about stepping outside of their comfort zones and vocal about what they wanted. Now that could be a problem but the Sanskari Bollywood has moved on. Why not CBFC?

Could it have been Konkona Sen Sharma’s Shireen Aslam – who has a secret life? Don’t get carried away. She is *just* a door-to-door saleswoman selling household novelties, nothing more nefarious than that. But, she must hide this from her Saudi-return husband who freely indulges his sexual peccadilloes – nice and plying with his girlfriend when outside and forcing himself upon his wife when at home. I wonder which part of Shireen’s story is ‘lady-oriented’ – A careerwoman in hiding? A woman trapped in a bad marriage? A victim of marital rape?

Grimly enough, both have their precedents in Bollywood. Shireen’s lady-oriented life is all about fending off attacks from her husband – emotional, psychological, and sexual. Isn’t this the opposite of lady-oriented?

Finally, could it be Ratna Pathak Shah’s Usha Parmar, a much older woman, a widow, known in the community simply as buaji? Buaji likes to be in charge of her business. She is a matriarch, and she has furtive desires. She usually explores these through her secret stash of books – a Hindi cousin of Mills & Boon, until she accidentally stumbles upon an object, a much younger man. She takes to projecting her desires on him.

Know what? Maybe that’s the real problem. In our industry, only men are allowed to go after younger women. Like in Buddha hoga tera baap, shaukeen, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Cheeni Kum, right back to Baton Baton Mein, even  Pati, Patni, aur Woh, we can talk about love but only when men need it from younger women. All the old women should just giddy up for a session of bhajan-kirtan. Except when they are in the Barjatya genre of family films – Maine Pyar Kiya, DDLJ… have had such aunty characters shredded to comic relief, ridiculously tip-toeing after old men who are themselves sidekicks to the hero’s sidekicks.

Usha Parmar isn’t that aunty. She’s different. She’s above Shireen, Leela, and Rihanna, who ultimately toe the line even with their minor acts of subversion thrown in the face of authority.

It was only Usha who had picked up the books with her ‘Lipstick wale sapne‘, and later on the phone, got her hair dyed, slipped into a sleeveless blouse. She was the only woman in a group of four who had her ‘Lipstickwale Sapne‘. Maybe that’s why her fall was also the greatest.

So, how is this film lady-oriented, really? All four women end up stepping out of bounds of tradition and societal restriction, all four women get punished for their transgressions.

Heck, this film is so lady-oriented, not one single frame could pass the Bechdel Test. It is all about the men, actually. And mostly, the kind you don’t want to see. It’s not lady-oriented, silly.

MIL demystified or Prejudices demystified?.. To Sadhguru

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I love Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. You know how some mundane happenings turn into significant memories despite being totally mundane and insignificant at the time they take place. For me that’s how Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s name became a significant imprint in my mind some 20 years ago – I still remember reading for the first time, his contribution under ‘The Speaking Tree’ column in The Times of India.

Then, Sadhguru wasn’t as big a name as he is now. He was known as a maverick of a spiritual guru. Nor was The Speaking Tree the book-worthy column it is now. I guess I can say that we go a long way back… of course, he doesn’t know it. 🙂 I feel that connection with him. Or is it with what he says? I don’t know. Sadhguru says an awesome amount of awesome things – I have watched and re-watched all of his videos available in the public domain.

Except sometimes, when I end up questioning certain things. I notice that the last time I did this it was on the same subject. About him saying how certain occult energies around certain temples are not conducive to the presence of women – things nobody can prove; I’d just have to assume that if Sadhguru says it, it must be right.

That’s when I see a milestone flashing neon: Next stop, Belief. I don’t have a problem with journeying this land. It’s just that when I’m in this territory, I bring an extra towel of kindness for comfort, a rappelling rope for a swift exit, a pocket knife of critical thinking, extra food for thought and survival as also a gift of appreciation and acceptance if my stay here is successful and I find my idol.

So now, it’s about this latest blog post, ‘Mother-in-Law Demystified’, the blurb saying that ‘Sadhguru demystifies the mother-in-law, enumerating various biological and psychological factors at play’. And trust me. That’s what a lot of young women in our society want perhaps – for the mother-in-law psyche to be demystified, decoded, deconstructed… de-EVERYTHING-ed.

As I read these from Sadhguru’s words… ‘Unfortunately, the same stupid problems have been going on for centuries, endlessly’ I perhaps sense the gracious and charismatic mystic’s rare but genuine flicker of frustration; I would be surprised if it weren’t coming from experience, one way or another.

It begins thus:

“About satisfying the mother – when you say a mother, essentially she is a woman. Then she became a mother. When you say a wife, essentially she is a woman, then she became a wife. It is a secondary role. Her basic identity is that of being a woman. The next identity is maybe a wife and the next is a mother. It comes in that order.”

Yes. Woman. Biologically, that’s a concrete fact. Wife, mother, are roles, yes.

Then follows an anecdote about how a man who wanted to marry a girl from work, sets a challenge for his mother by inviting three of his women colleagues home, along with ‘his girl’, and not telling her mother who that would be. When he asked his mom whether she had made her out from among their guests, she got it right because, she said, “The moment she walked in, I didn’t like her. So it must be her.”

According to Sadhguru, our MILs are biologically inclined to reject any other female coming into what she sees as “her space” as that would mean she is required to “share someone who belonged to you in an unequal proportion”, and the situation is compounded by the realisation that this sharing would also be of “unequal proportions”. He elucidates, “A mother wants her son to get married and be happy. But on another level, a mother is still a woman. You have to seek permission to share something that belonged to you. That makes things a little difficult.”

(I would think having a big fat Indian wedding would serve as a granting of this permission of sorts or maybe we should add this one rite too. Unlike what happens in the West, where the man seeks permission from the bride’s father. Eitherway, to require your adult child to ask your permission to live with his chosen partner beats me.)

Moving on, the entire focus seems to be on biology. Everything they do in the relationship sphere boils down to that hormonal hi-and-lo of either getting pregnant or getting your period. I wonder if his explanations for what every man does as a part of being a husband, father, etc, would similarly and equally boil down to that “little man” and his wonders. If they would, I haven’t yet come across something like it.

Sadhguru further explains his stress on biology in order to explain the typical MIL psyche: “It is somewhat biological because it is all a process of procreation and protection. If a woman is not possessive about what belongs to her, she would not have taken care of her children. She would have just delivered them and walked away. It is biological, and that extends itself throughout life in some way or the other. However, if one is mature and aware, one can grow out of it.

Now, I understand procreation and protection. I understand that possessiveness a mother feels for her child. If she didn’t have these feelings, thanks to the overwhelming chemical soup that our bodies are, she probably wouldn’t nurture her children so well. So yes, this ‘nurturing’ or maternal instinct is purely the result of this chemical soup of our biological reality. However, nowhere does this soup indicate a bias for the male child.

 

 

Why, when we speak of Mothers-In-Law, is it that it only describes those mothers who have had a male child and have trouble “sharing” him with another female? Sadhguru, are you trying to say that this is also biology? Is this a Freudian slip? Mothers are more than ready in our culture to “share” (the word may as well euphemistically include for foeticide, infanticide, dowry deaths, unhappy marriages bordering on slavery and abuse… et al) their female children. Why? Because in the end, she is a woman?

Are you also saying that women have no recourse left in life but to toil their labours under the diktat of their ‘biology’?; that they remain these infantile beasts madly in love with their male children one way or another and have nothing better to do in terms of relationships other than mark their territory around their sons’ lives?

Are you saying that you don’t see how our societies are centred around patriarchy, which is essentially about how our fathers, brothers, and husbands are just men? That men have always had an upper hand in this whole “business” of our society and how which gender is valued for what purpose.

For now, though, I’d just be happy if you explained to me why do mothers-in-law claim their exclusive rights only to their children of a certain gender. Why don’t they have as big a problem “sharing” their daughters?

I want to know if you’ll repeat one more time: Because she is a woman. This sentence throughout history has justified many a witch-hunt and inquisitions as it keeps justifying denials of democracy, right to drive, right to dress the way women want, right to education, vote, to become a political leader, CEO, and so on. I can’t un-know what you have said about women and how much they are ruled by their biology: that it is difficult for a woman to be a spiritual leader; that it is difficult for a woman to keep in step with the rhythm of the modern workplace, hinting at their monthly menstrual cycles.

My two-bit: people who go out of their way to try to manipulate and control other people’s lives are sociopaths and those who employ abuse and violence to do this are psychopaths. This is neither about biology nor about gender.

As for these traits in Indian parenting, a lot of this behaviour simply stems from the child’s inability to identify this abuse, due in part to being co-opted into this kind of upbringing, and their helplessness to doing something about it. Emotional blackmail is like the baby formula our kids grow up on, to face a complete diet of psychological intimidation and isolation, indoctrination, stretching to corporal punishment and serious psychological and verbal abuse in life.

Truth is, yes, the same stupid problems have been going on for centuries, endlessly, but the reason for this is not ‘Because she is a woman’. For, nurturance means you contribute to the growth of physical, emotional, and social well-being of a child.Every animal lets their offspring become independent irrespective of gender; humans are no exception in this regard. And every mother tries to do this for her child in the way she knows. But, there is this thing about humans – our social concepts are centred on misogyny. Therefore, she knows very little about feeling secure, about educating herself and about self-development. Our misogyny makes us point at women even though it’s the men who are at fault. Your ‘because she is a woman’ just reminds me of how indelible this bias is.

 

Of Ganga Maiya & the Whanganui

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The news of a New Zealand river being granted legal personhood by its Parliament was as widely shared in the #socialmedia as it was treated with a sense of subdued wonder. But, at least it wasn’t scoffed at.

The river is called Whanganui. And it is now legally a PERSON – as in, it has the same rights as those of a New Zealand citizen. Apparently, this battle for Whanganui’s rights is 160 years old and New Zealand’s native people, the Maori, who fought it, sang the traditional waita folk song to celebrate this win. A personhood for Whanganui isn’t just about solving a legal tangle, it’s about identity, ecology, and human history above all else.

It’s also about something else: Confluence of Maori heritage with ancient Hindu (Indian) heritage and cultural history.

According to the article, the local Maori people have always recognized the Whanganui ― which they call Te Awa Tupua ― as “kin” and an “indivisible and living whole”. They view their own health as inextricably linked to the health of the river. There’s even a Maori saying that says: “I am the river and the river is me.”

Indians still call the river Ganga, fashionably contorted in English as The Ganges, Ganga Maiya or Maa Ganga. Maiya and Maa both words mean ‘mother’. Ganga maiya also has very many mythological stories about her. She finds a mention in the Rig Veda, the oldest of ancient Indian scriptures. She is also the holiest, purest, and most sacred of India’s rivers.

Ganga isn’t alone in her personhood and her divinity. She is joined in confluence by Yamuna and Saraswati, all three of whom merge into one another at the beautiful Triveni sangam (confluence of three rivers) at Prayag (meaning confluence, also a way of referring to Allahabad, a major city in Uttar Pradesh) in Allahabad.

Whanganui’s personhood entitles her to ‘$80 million in damages as well as $30 million to improve the new “person’s” health and $1 million to set up a framework to represent the river’s interests’ (link to the HuffPost article). Her interests will now be represented in court by two guardians from the indigenous Maori community.

While the modern New Zealand embraces its ancient culture despite its modernity, modern India has tried its utmost and continues to distance itself from that very culture that makes it great. As Indians, we need to keep in mind that when Ganga was Ganga maiya and not The Ganges, pollution and dams were not routine. That for us too ‘I am the river and the river is me’ was as true and pure as the life-giving powers of Ganga’s waters.

But, all went downhill when Ganga Maiya became The Ganges, and commission after commission has failed to stem its decline into a highly polluted water body. If we want to become a modern country, we should do it on our own terms – by reclaiming our cultural identity. Our ancient cultures have survived because we learnt to live WITH our surrounding environment and ecology, rather than exploiting it.

Whanganui’s legal personhood resurrects the need for this approach in our modern societies. Our emotional involvement with our environment is what makes us truly human, not the cutting off of it. Yes, we think rationally but our motivations have to come from a place of feeling and not logic.

The sooner we realise this as Indians, the better it will be for our generations to come. Let us accept and embrace who we are as a people. Let others not guilt us into mocking our own cultural identity that made us valuable enough for them to come and ransack, loot, pillage, and rule us for control over what we had once built.

Let’s join in the spirit of the Maori today…

 

Why do men have such a difficult relationship with honour?

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There are few things men cannot do. Ask men, they’ll tell you they make the best chefs, Nobel laureates, mechanics, plumbers, sportspersons, doctors, engineers, politicians, leaders, everything.

They leave just one thing at the mercy of woman: honour. That, is a woman’s responsibility. In a woman’s honour lies that of the village, community, and society. So, she had better not lose it. Rather, she had better not loose herself. She need not be a chef, nor a Nobel laureate, nor mechanic, plumber, sportsperson, doctor, engineer, politician, or a leader or anything if she does not have this ‘Honour’.

Sharad Yadav’s latest speech made me go look up the word ‘honour’ in the dictionary. I knew it had to do something with respectability but I wanted more clarity. I find honour as a noun is about ‘high respect’, and ‘the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right’. Honour, as a verb, also means ‘to fulfill promises’, like when we say: he’s the kind of man that honours his word.

I think Sharad Yadav should do the same exercise. He seems to have mixed up ‘honour’ as a noun with ‘honour’ as a verb. He said in a recent speech of his, “The honour of being able to cast a vote is a much bigger honour than your daughter’s honour” (excerpted from a Times of India report link here).

Yes, there is honour in a citizen casting one’s vote, fulfilling one’s duty as a citizen – it’s an honorable thing to do. But, what does he mean by daughter’s honour?, I pray he explains. I’m assuming he won’t, based on a simple conjecture that he is incapable of doing so; for had he been able, this nastiness wouldn’t have erupted in the first place.

To the likes of Sharad Yadav, men have ‘honour’ as a verb while women have to contend with the ‘noun’. The dictionary is split down the middle. Men do, Women are.

Women have to wear the noun around their hips or they can’t be respectable. Men can simply talk about ‘honour’ and bingo, they’re respectable! It is indeed remarkable that in the world of men like Sharad Yadav, who value ‘honour’ of vote more than ‘honour’ of daughters that daughters are thrust with the responsibility of maintaining their honour while at the same time having their ‘honour’ attacked all the time, again by men like Sharad Yadav who enforce ‘honour’ upon these same women.

It’s basically an insidious patriarchal game where men decide what ‘honour’ is, whose burden it should be, and who is responsible for keeping it.

I hope I am not being too unjust in making this assumption about Sharad Yadav being another hopeless politician whose brain is addled with toxic patriarchy. I have these words of his to produce here: “If daughter’s honour is compromised, it only affects the village or community but if the vote’s honour is compromised, it impacts the entire nation.”

I want him to explain how exactly is a daughter’s honour compromised – who compromises her honour and through what actions. Also, if and when a daughter’s honour is compromised, how does it affect a whole village or a community? What has he done, if he has done anything at all, to ensure a daughter’s honour is not compromised?

And, why does he think a voter’s honour more important than that of a daughter? A daughter means 50% of our population and is also a voter. Moreover, daughters go through their lives every single day. A voter comes into the reckoning once every five years.

Finally, what about the honour of a man? Or does he think men don’t have to worry about honour? Is it found in the same place as it is not in a woman? Is that the reason why women have to have their honour ‘protected’ by men who are born honourable?

Have the likes of Sharad Yadav ever thought deeply about their issues with honour?

 

All Veg doesn’t mean fretting over protein

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Last week when I was watching ‘Dangal’ (great movie, by the way), I saw how the filmy Mahavir Singh Phogat played by Aamir Khan left no stone unturned to ensure his daughters, Geeta and Babita Kumari Phogat, got proper nutrition i.e. protein, after all they were training to become wrestlers. There’s a decent bit of spotlight on their mother’s staunch reluctance to allow the “chikken” into their home and hearth, leaving Mahavir to ask his nephew to build from a scratch a separate fireplace. As if that wasn’t enough, the nephew was also in charge of executing the recipe for chicken curry.

The mother, ably played by Indian soap opera sensation Sakshi Tanwar, was left to look on in dismay as the daughters learnt to eat up chicken. I belong to that significantly large community of vegetarians in India and I connected with that part of the story, maybe because in the first week of 2017 on the very second day of my free weights workout of which I’ve had just three so far, my trainer told me to bulk up on proteins. “You’re veg. So you don’t get enough proteins.” That was the verdict after my tryst with free weights (the lightest ones on the row).

So, back to the “chikken” scene in ‘Dangal’, I don’t know whether it truly happened in the lives of Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters, Geeta and Babita Kumari Phogat. And, while many who will choose to draw inspiration from this story of utter grit, belief, and valour, some part of it will go in the direction of adopting non-vegetarian food in order to achieve physical fitness.

Well, as per latest research, that is hardly necessary, according to this article in http://www.Scroll.in that says You Don’t Have to Feast on Meat to Get your Protein. This story is amazing as well. It speaks of Melbourne’s Andrew Taylor, the Spud Fit guy who ate nothing but potatoes, yeah spuds for all of 2016. He is @spudfit on Facebook and his website is http://www.spudfit.com, which also has a blog in which he talks about food minimalism, on how junk is punishment, not a reward.

In so many ways, spudfit seems like something that would give results totally opposite to being fit, since potatoes (and rice) are usually the first thing that people who are trying to lose weight and or getting fit rid their diets off. However, Andrew Taylor actually lost 53kgs over the year while eating only potatoes, usually mixing with nut or soya milk and at times a can of baked beans. It’s interesting how Taylor explains Spudfit challenge – it’s a challenge to get over your food addiction.

Taylor, who describes self as a thinker, learner, wannabe athlete, and a plant-eater, probably did not have to worry about where he was going to get his proteins from. I’m a plant-eater too and have been all my life and this question often pops up. And many Indian youngsters today might be thinking, particularly after what they see in ‘Dangal’ that to be strong and fighting fit, the one thing they need to do is switch to non-vegetarian diets.

That is the one thing that Taylor’s Spudfit debunks, supported by new research that says foods contain ‘Hidden Proteins’ that helps us make the recommended daily allowance (RDA). It’s something our mothers and grandmothers have known for long but we’ve chosen to ignore it. Note how Konkani and Maharashtrian diets prominently feature peanuts and sprouts, Punjabis eat paneer (cottage cheese) and dry fruits, South Indian food contains a lot of urad dal, fermented which also provide Vitamin B complex, and so on.

In any case, nutrition studies are mostly done on Western populations and Indians require a lower calorie count, relatively speaking. Unless, of course, you’re training to be a wrestler, probably. Then you surely need a lot more protein.

But, as far as the original post on the The Conversation by Jennie Jackson, a lecturer in human nutrition and dietitics says in How Much Protein Do You Really Need? that normally people would need 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. And this, apparently, is not hard to achieve even without the meat and poultry.

Taherians rejoice, 2017 is here

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It’s 365 minus 1 and it’s already too much to take.

Taher Shah in 2017

Little did I know that while we were performing our annual ritual of playing his videos on the 31st night, Taher Shah, the master of love, humanity, and angels and of course music (of the Angel and Eye to Eye fame) had let spill some more of his creativity into this world. Sharing his message in the link above.

Our Taher Shah ritual is a prelude to playing 80s and 90s Bollywood music late into the night as the old year gives way to the new. The exercise is reassuring in the sense that when you start a new year thus, it can’t really get worse. Something like when you break a glass vessel only to expect some chiding, scolding, and maybe shouting by mom and all she says is: “Oh, it’s glass that broke. Don’t worry, good things will happen now”. Ask her if you can go ahead and break more so best things can happen… Or don’t. So for me, Taher Shah’s albums fit into that category.

Taher Shah’s latest is a cat video, with golden trees and leaves, the master sitting on a golden throne-like chair, cradling a white cat. His message, a reiteration of love, humanity, and angels i.e. Farishta… ‘She will certainly return your love, just make it angelic and see’.

I only have one critique of his message, being inured to all things Taher Shah by now: the man-bun is actually nice. And am not missing the purple bathrobe either.

Anyway, adding this to my playlist for 31st December 2017, Are We There Yet?

Shoaib Daniyal’s intellectual high horse

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In the manner of all open letters, here I am, responding to Shoaib Daniyal’s article Indian Conception of Nationalism Borrows Heavily from Religion published by Scroll.in.

I’d start with asking Mr. Daniyal if he has read this superbly insightful book called ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. I wish he had; for he would have had no need to write his article, nor I, my response. I certainly do recommend reading The Sapiens and Harari’s latest, Homo Deus, which takes the subject a notch higher.

Anyway, Harari says in Sapiens that “Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say, ‘Careful! A Lion!’ Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo Sapiens acquired the ability to say, ‘The Lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’ This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language.” In other words, religion exists only in human societies. Just like politics, arts, science, and even marketing :-). What makes all of these things possible is the human being’s ability to think and communicate in abstractions, go beyond what is here and now. It is a special ability and is unique to humans.

Harari offers a detailed explanation of why such fictions had to exist: “Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to co-operate flexibly in large numbers.”

Many creatures in the animal world are somewhat like us, they co-operate and work collectively: “Ants and bees work together in huge numbers but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives.” But, a Leftist-Marxist worker bee revolution against the Queen Bee i.e. monarchy isn’t going to come.

Wolves and Chimpanzees co-operate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of other individuals they know intimately. A lone wolf is a dead wolf when it comes across another wolf pack and chimps won’t ever manage to dominate the world with just one command: Go forth and multiply.

In this regard, particularly, Mr. Daniyal might like this line about ‘religion’ from Sapiens: “You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.” The difference between humans and other creatures is that humans can convince another human to take his own life by promising him future glory or an interesting afterlife. And as a result, the human race has been able to accomplish for itself much more than all the other species for themselves combined.

Maybe Mr. Shoaib Daniyal doesn’t realize this but not just religions, all ideologies, all philosophies, all manners of schools of thought, even all cricket teams and football teams, all business organisations are pieces of fiction. Some are held together through cultural norms, some through legalities, most through both. Without creating these fictions, we cannot function well TOGETHER as a team, as co-workers, as citizens, as a society, as a culture; in fact, we can’t even do a Mexican wave across the stadium at a football match without a clear sense of a collective approach.

Why should nationalism be any different? Think of the world as a playground. Think of nations as territories and think of people within them as teammates. All nations are teams and they do everything within their power to further the interests of their teams. While the piece of land is real, no doubt, the team is a fiction. What was once a fiction named the Indian sub-continent is now a collection of fictions called India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Some amount of national feeling will be needed if national integrity is to be guarded. Why do liberals find this so hard to understand? If they think themselves to be global citizens, why don’t they enact this fiction first by renouncing their passports?

Mr. Daniyal, when he states that Indian nationalism borrows from religion, he thinks he is making an original observation. Clearly he isn’t.

Mr. Daniyal seems concerned that ‘Indian nationalism often fuses the Hindu conception of a female Shakti deity to literally imagine a national goddess, Bharat Mata’. 

Is it possible that he is ignorant of the existence of the idea of the ‘motherland’ in various other cultures? Or fatherland in case of Germany? He does start out correctly in mentioning the female Shakti deity and then disappoints with the suggestion that we Indians imagine our country as a national Goddess of sorts.

Mr. Daniyal seems to have misunderstood his fellow Indians: We imagine Bharat Mata in the image of our own mothers, is that so hard to see? If so, why? Mata means mother. In fact, we Indians even imagine our female deities as mothers – Maa Durga, Maa Kaali, Maa Sita, and so on. For us, motherhood is divine and mother is divinity. Sadly though, for liberals, nothing is or can be sacred. For them, this is paganism. The very paganism that has allowed them to thrive in this beautiful culture without a hate campaign, persecution, or a genocide.

Coming to the deity angle: If there is a deity angle here it is because in the Hindu culture, we are expected to revere our mothers as deities, for sure. Matrudevo Bhava, pitrudevo bhava… (Let your mother be respected as a devi, your father as a deva).

Now, what is a deity? It’s a loose translation of the word Devas and Devis, which literally means ‘givers’: those who give. These are not mythical beings, not magical beings, and not mystical beings. These are ordinary beings who have risen to extraordinariness of stature due to their special talents, abilities, and efforts. It’d be safe to assume that most of us would agree that our parents do perform an extraordinary role in our lives.

To explain further, in the Indian epics, Ram, Sita, Indra, etc. were all devas (devis). These deities all had mortal bodies and they had their imperfections, just like in Greek mythology. They were not Gods, that interpretation came about later. The concept of God, as in the all-pervading, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God of the Abrahamic tradition is totally and completely non-existent in the Hindu culture. Instead what is, is Brahma (cosmic consciousness or intelligence, known as creation in Abrahamic religions), which is related to the word Brahmand (The Universe, the physical manifestation of this cosmic intelligence), and the word Brahman (the knower, the intelligent one).

Bharat Mata, therefore, if she is revered as a devi, becomes a cultural norm that is only to be expected in a land that has stuck to its 5,000 year old culture despite everything. How else would you expect a common Indian to respond to the demands of a modern world cut up in chunks of nations within its stated borders?

In this context, what really is the problem? Is it possible that Mr. Daniyal doesn’t find this imagination secular enough? Or, is it that Mr. Daniyal doesn’t approve of the imagination at all, in the manner of warning us all against something akin to idol worship? Or is it that Mr. Daniyal simply doesn’t approve of this ’emotional’ and therefore unintellectual way of relating to one’s country and culture? Is he opposed to any national feeling? In that case, should he not take recourse to his ‘nationality’?

Another problem area Mr. Shoaib Daniyal has highlighted is the use of the term ‘martyr’ for Indian soldiers killed in combat, while stating that the Union government had clarified in the Lok Sabha that it does not use the term ‘Martyr’ to describe a soldier who had died in action. The reason for not using the term, as Mr. Daniyal puts it is: the word Martyr comes from a Greek word that literally means ‘witness’, refers to a Christian killed for his belief in Jesus. The term gained prominence in the first few centuries of the Christian Church in Rome, where the religion often faced persecution at the hands of Roman authorities.

Mr. Daniyal also says, “it is widely used in Indian English to refer to Indian armed personnel killed battling militants, say in Assam or Kashmir”. Please note the non-committal way this line comes about: Indian armed personnel battling militants. Militants, not terrorists.

In Mr. Daniyal’s world, utopian superhighways of logic and rational thinking cover the entire expanse of the collective minds where none thinks differently and they ride on and on, on their intellectual high horses not eating or drinking or cultivating or producing a single thing. Because, all of these activities would require people to work together and that’s not possible without some form of organization. Such organisations would require fictions of community, society, religion, etc AND THAT WOULD BE UNACCEPTABLE. Besides, everyone would want to ride their high horses, who would want to work to produce, cultivate, or construct or even care about it all?

That’s why he uses the word militants and not terrorists. The word Terrorists would imply a judgement against people willing to die for their ’cause’ which may be a religion or an ideology, a judgement that intellectuals such as Mr. Daniyal are wont to make; but the same intellectuals leave no effort to deride that collective of people who is willing to die to protect the existing order of their society: their country.

They will not judge the terrorist for his religiously motivated zeal to destroy but will readily judge people trying to protect themselves from that terrorist through collective nationalistic feeling. They will call nationalism religion-like, because in this case it is the Hindu “religion” being referenced, but will not question religion itself and its contours because here he would have to talk about other main religions, i.e. Christianity and Islam, thanks to which the Indian sub-continent has had to split up in various chunks that sing different national anthems, i.e. accepting Christian hymnody.

Anyway, coming back to the term ‘Martyr’, the use of which Mr. Daniyal terms as theological cross-pollination, he deftly links it to the Supreme Court order that makes it mandatory for the National Anthem to be played in movie theatres. He cites the order: “All present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.”

Mr. Daniyal rightly points out that the concept of national anthem comes to India from Europe, tracing its origins to the Christian hymnody, and yes, he’s right that in this regard, standing up was a mark of respect. He also offers a counter – a kirtan or a qawwali is performed sitting down and, one would assume, the singer or the audience means no disrespect. He sounds concerned that ‘as in the case of martyr, without realizing it, Indian nationalists are importing elements of organized religion to give shape to their conception of community’.

And I see that Mr. Shoaib Daniyal is absolutely right in diagnosing the problem. You see, the Hindu culture of Sanaatan Dharma has absolutely no concept of martyrdom. We also have absolutely no history of having a National Anthem. Later, the kings did have emblems and flags, but no National Anthem. That came from India’s ties with Christianity and the Christian invasion, or in other words, the East India Company – the British raj, the Christian Missionary.

But, maybe Mr. Daniyal should be equally concerned about how this hymnody has now gone universal – I don’t know of any country that doesn’t have a National Anthem, doesn’t have a set of rules observant upon how to respect National symbols, doesn’t take pride in its National symbols.

Does Mr. Daniyal have any problem with any other country having all these symbols of nationalism? Perhaps not, because and only because no other country’s people call their motherland Bharat Mata. He probably finds it confusing that a people who imagine their nation in Hindu finery accept Christian hymnody. And, this is why he should understand India better. The Hindu culture has openly welcomed all religions and kept them safe – ask the Zoroastrians, ask the Jews. If at all he wants to ask this question about being influenced by Christian hymnody, he should put it to Islamic states.

Finally, Mr. Daniyal doesn’t like the fact that our nationalism is too rooted in our territories. This is what he has to say: “Today, nations will be ready to pay immensely in terms of lives and money to maintain the integrity of their map. This is true even for seemingly pointless strips of land – think the Falklands war between Argentina and the UK, or the Siachen conflict closer home.”

To this, I have nothing to say but quote Donald Trump, “We are a nation and nations have borders”. Liberal intellectuals steeped in the idea of globalized world fail to understand this at their own peril. Siachen, to Mr. Shoaib Daniyal, is a pointless strip of land. Tomorrow, he’ll call Kashmir so, to be followed by West Bengal, possibly Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and then maybe Hyderabad, and maybe Uttar Pradesh, and then who knows… “Bharatmaa tere tukde hongey” (that chant of JNU intellectuals whence Kanhiya Kumar’s fame came and went) … you know where this is going, right?

The parallel between nationalism and religion notwithstanding, I would advise Mr. Shoaib Daniyal to take heart: at least, unlike the very imagined ‘kingdom of heaven’ and the afterlife, nations truly exist. India exists. Indians exist. We, as one country, do exist.

 

 

 

 

Demonetisation in India exposes a sad sorority of married women

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November 8 will go down in history as an earthquake that shook the entire India. And not because that’s the day when Donald Trump was elected POTUS. It was because our Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation scheme that made notes of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 illegal tender. Overnight, nearly 70% of all cash circulating within the country was not worth the price of the paper it was printed on.

The move was termed as a masterstroke in the government’s fight against black money, which is a major source of funding for terror acts within the country, be it in Kashmir or in Naxal-affected areas, or elsewhere. Limits were imposed on exchange of money – a paltry sum of Rs.4000 in cash could be exchanged at one go at the bank, and in that too, it was made mandatory to bring your ID proof. The government was counting and the taxman was watching. For the first time, black money hoarders and tax evaders had no clue what to do.

But these aren’t the only people that were scared. There was another class that found the move completely daunting and intimidating. Married Indian women. Women who were dependent on their family’s largesse of TLC and money. Women who had been squirreling away the money from their household expenses basket in order to keep cash at hand for a rainy day. This sounds dishonest but it most certainly isn’t.

Most of this money ends up in their secret stash through diverting it from where it was meant to be spent: her children want to eat ice-cream, she cajoles them to share one ice-cream cone rather than have one each. She needs a new pair of sandals but she takes her well-worn pair to the cobbler and buys a new one for half the price of the money she has. Her daughter needs a new dress so she fashions one out from one of her saris that she got in her trousseau that is now gathering dust. Instead of buying veggies from the vendor that comes to her doorstep, she takes a bus ride into the outskirts to find cheaper supplies. She doesn’t buy a new sari to attend her cousin’s wedding. She borrows it from a neighbour. This secret stash is achieved by the dint of years and years of sacrifice and severe monitoring of cash flows.

And these are not just lower middle class or uneducated women doing so. This sorority also includes upper middle class women whose family dynamics are far from being dysfunctional, at least by definition. These are women who could trust their spouse enough to have children with them but not with candour about why they needed some cash kept aside.

Their secret stash comes in handy when her daughter needs pocket money for her school picnic that her father is skeptical about; when her son wants a new pair of bright sneakers for sports day; when her own mother wants the new alternative medicine that the son she stays with would refuse her because it is extra expenditure; when she wants her father to take money from her instead of taking a loan; when she wants it for something she can’t tell her husband about lest he shouts at her, and becomes suspicious of her spending away all ‘his hard-earned money’; when her own mother-in-law suddenly collapses and cash has to be arranged for emergency care at the hospital; when she would need it to secure her own freedom after her husband drinks himself to death and penury.

These are limited scenarios but not untrue. 80% of India’s women remain outside of the banking system. Finances are controlled by the men in the family. Close to 49% of Indian population is comprised of women. There are inheritance rights and Hindu women have been granted equal rights to all inheritance but equal inheritance is not an equality yet. Daughters are blackmailed emotionally and sometimes literally into forfeiting their right. If they still fight it, they are shamed by the society.

The Indian mainstream media and the social media have aptly captured the plight of all these women. Countercurrents.org has written a long one about how demonetisation is an unfolding tragedy for women (link here), TheLadiesFinger too recounts stories of such women (Link here), while scroll.in details how women are scrambling to link here salvage their savings. There are many more.

Revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia has clarified that small businesses, women, housewives, will face less scrutiny while depositing their savings in 500-1000 notes up to Rs. 2-2.5 lakh, so long as it is all accounted for in the household’s income. But this has failed to bring relief to our sorority girls.

In what is the saddest part of this story, our sorority sisters are probably not that afraid of the country’s government. What they are afraid of is the powers-that-be at home.

40-year-old Eshwarramma from Chikaballapur in Karnataka killed herself on November 14 after losing her savings of Rs.15,000 while on her way to the bank to deposit her money. Her husband Nagappa was an alcoholic and had almost abandoned their family. She was a day labourer and is survived by a son.

My previous domestic help had lost Rs. 20,000 in a local village-level ponzi scheme she had invested in, keeping it from her driver husband who was having an affair with a fellow driver’s wife. He used to beat her up for every little thing, right in front of her two young sons. She wanted to secure their future while ignoring her husband’s selfish indulgences.

Another domestic help was working 8 hours at my place after working all the rest at hers to support the education of her two young sons. Her husband is an autorickshaw driver whose vehicle EMI was being paid from her salary. When I took her to the bank to make a fixed deposit in her name, we couldn’t because the signature on her PAN card did not match. It was her husband who had put her name down, not she. There was no way she could access her own Jan Dhan account.

Another woman who worked at my place is a sole breadwinner in a family of eight. She has been duped by her own brother, who offered to help her buy a house. Her husband is a security guard and spends most days drinking after he was kicked out of his job.

A friend who lives in a super affluent joint family can’t buy a laptop because her husband would laugh at her, she being “just a housewife”. She’s looking to buy a used one from her savings, a purchase she’ll disguise as a gift from her cousin.

A distant aunt recently declared a secret stash of Rs.50,000 to her husband, to face much mocking and derision for her secretive nature, and not credit for her frugality.

Media calling the demonetisation step monstrous for robbing the peace of mind of these women need to look at the larger picture. These women do not have the luxury of peace of mind. Much like the government that has for decades rewarded a system where crooks and power-hungry are emboldened and get richer, our society supports a family system where hierarchy-driven patriarchy is emboldened and controls the money.

Media has brought forth all these stories of financial heartbreak of women but a rejoicing for their relatives. But they have failed to notice where all this comes from – control women’s birth. Suppress their education. Let them remain dependent on family. And last but not the least, blame them for their lower status in the society. Repeat.

In this sense, the good, clean, honest man in the Indian polity can be compared to a housewife. So far, he couldn’t question the government. He was too busy trying to make clean money so that at least 1 chapati out of all three his wife cooked could go towards feeding the babus and the politicians. He had to furnish a clean bill of expenses every time he went out shopping. Probably that’s why he is largely supportive of the government’s move.

The honest man is happy today because the government has taken a step that he believes will, in the long run, benefit the country by penalising the tax evaders and black money marketers. When will a housewife experience such relief, I wonder.

The housewife is in a state of quandary. But this just compounds an already dysfunctional situation. She fights day in and day out. She survives. She will continue to survive. This is but a sad comment on the social state of affairs and what passes of as a “family” in India. She can’t trust anyone for understanding her. Not even her spouse.

 

 

The Right is Rising on a Heap of Labels of Hate

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They say it’s the new right that’s rising across the world.

Huh. Right, left, center, left of center, right of center… labels.

Sexist, racist, homophobe, Islamophobe… just a few… but labels again.

Liberal, Neo-liberal, elite, noble, progressive, modern… again labels.

The rise of the right has brought two major changes in 2016: Brexit, and now, Trump. Actually, some who think the world exists beyond The West, would club India’s current BJP government into the same list. That happened two years back. But then, the European Union has been seeing the rise of its Right for quite some time too. Of course, there’s Turkey still happening, unfolding.

And I’m amazed that people around the world are shocked that Donald Trump won the American Presidency. Identifying these people shouldn’t be too difficult. We can safely say that they are ‘liberals’ of a certain sort and definitely to a certain degree. Those raising a big hue and cry are, largely, educated people, products of the Western education system, whether they reside in the US, the EU, or India. Educated people who, when they were discussing the elections in their daily walk of life, had no clue that a lot of people around them were maybe just nodding to what they were saying, and that when it came to the D-Day had completely different plans about what they were going to do.

To imagine the number of people who hid behind a facade of liberalism waiting to vote Trump as soon as they stepped into the privacy of the voting booth. If the liberals see this as a sabotage of their liberal la-la land to turn out in protests, there’s no surprise in it. They looked so down upon these people that their real agenda  had to be hid from them, their exit polls, their media, everyone. It’s almost like a guerrilla strategy. With generous help from the media.

Back in India, the US elections were a much followed event and the diaspora leading us to believe, just like in the US, that Hillary had it in the bag. The media bought it and sold it too. Talk about POTUS Hillary Clinton was almost like fait accompli – The Newsweek coming out with ‘Madam President’ issue, which it has now withdrawn. And perhaps that’s why, when the fall came, it hurt so bad.

Why was it like a fait accompli? Because someone as sexist, as racist, a rapist, stupid, as unsuccessful in biz as Donald Trump could hardly be elected President. This was the argument on good days. On bad days, it was orange coloured mango with crazy straw hair and a dumb trophy beauty-queen wife who plagiarised Michelle Obama’s speech. And yet, it happened.

When they go low, we go high, said the liberals. And I really wish they could. But by shaming those who saw something in voting for Trump as the ‘Deplorables’, the liberals showed they were none the better. It’s a very strong word. It means: Deserving strong condemnation, completely unacceptable; also, shockingly bad in quality; very bad in a way that causes shock, fear, or disgust.

What or who is a liberal? By definition, one who is willing to respect or accept opinions different from one’s own. Not mock, insult, or humiliate. But that’s theory. In practice, being a liberal means looking down upon everyone who looks at things differently, is less educated, is less politically correct and so on.

It followed later that HRC won the popular vote, but there’s not a bat’s chance in hell the electoral college will declare her Madam President. That’s what makes this a very bitter defeat. The US is tottering on the edge of violent protests and rioting as large groups denounce Trump and his supporters. Already, a few instances of hate-filled dialogue in public have sounded an alarm. Public morale is low and Hillary has blamed James Comey for dealing the final blow to her campaign. It did, am sure, in a way, but I don’t think she did much to reduce the impact.

Finally, what I’ll say is this. While the liberal-minded HRC did go the politically incorrect way of denouncing Trump supporters as the deplorables – for the White House really should not be the residence of a racist, a sexist, and a sexual abuser, or for that matter any public office –  if you’re looking to blame someone for this fiasco for the world and not just for the US, it’s in the fact that Trump was even considered for running for the President. That’s what is truly deplorable. The next deplorable thing is to call a quarter of Americans who are eligible to vote, The Deplorables (Vox Article). That’s not the RIGHT way to go about it.

Ditch the labels. Stop using them for political gain. Look at each individual voter who has some expectations from you. Stop mocking them for having them. Stop dividing people for personal gain.

 

Delhi being smoggered, which city is next?

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What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I wish.

I’m talking about Delhi smog, which has led Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to call the city that is also the national capital, a ‘Gas Chamber’.

For the first time, I think, we are in some serious competition with China, as apparently, 1/10th of the China’s land area is covered in heavy smog. Well, Delhi’s smog is 4 times the levels at which Beijing declares it an ’emergency’. At places, the pollution levels are 17 times the ‘safe’ limit. Schools are shut for 3 days.

The Delhi government did call for a meeting this morning to discuss the issue. As for causes, the use of firewood, coal, diesel, petrol and burning of agricultural waste were found to be the culprits. They say it is crop stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Delhi that is  largely responsible for such pollution. Not firecrackers.

Now, exactly a week ago, it was the Diwali weekend. Diwali is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu tradition. Celebrations involve bursting of crackers, which, no doubt contribute to the pollution in general. Specifically though, they add sulphur and phosphorous and other such chemicals that are noxious when inhaled.

Last weekend, #PollutionFreeDiwali trended heavily on Twitter with people asking that use of crackers be dumped to reduce pollution at which people lashed back calling the others anti-Hindus, asking why this selective festival shaming was being done and so on.

Well, as far as pollution levels go, it’s the highest today, 7 days after Diwali. Much higher than the morning after the big celebration. Obviously, there’s a lot more going on.

The Delhi government has cited crop-burning in the neighbouring states as a major reason. But, there’s a very interesting thread on Twitter that questioned why places where crop burning was actually happening i.e. Rohtak, Punjab, etc. had much lower pollution levels than did Delhi.

It seems this is a combination of factors and behind it all, lies civic apathy and government’s lack of interest. The latter might change with the pollution problem coming to its head. Kejriwal is mulling over bringing back the odd-even formula when it comes to using private vehicles. Sheer tokenism, of course.

Our politicians advise reducing the use of private vehicles without ensuring effective, adequate, punctual, and safe public transport while they themselves travel in convoys of 6-8 cars for even intra-city jaunts.

Our public transport is in doldrums.

Our buses are gas-guzzling mammoths that are ill-maintained, less frequent, and fewer in number than what is required. There has been no tech or design upgrade over the years or even route optimisation. As a result, they occupy large spaces on roads, and often go empty.

Our trains, while they constitute the largest railway network in the world, too are often poorly maintained, especially the toilets, often not on time, and often considered unsafe for travel especially for women. Upon The Railways’ own admission, blankets on trains are washed maybe once in 2 months (You smelt it right…), and services are pretty bad – you won’t find good food even on long-haul routes.

No sooner are bus-stops are erected than bits of the metal railing and seating are stolen. Never to be replaced. No helpline phones, no vending machines nearby. Because of course, if you create assets you’ll have to spend on guarding them too. And that will never work in here, where people will steal even a manhole (drain) cover and leave a drain exposed.

Where transport services are involved, for instance in the case of autorickshaws, the drivers are a vote bank and will use political muscle to ask for a raise, to protest petrol price hike, etc. The government has no objection when they refuse to ply their customer, which is supposed to be their duty. Their welfare at the cost of the consumer is the government’s mantra. The easy way out.

When cab aggregators such as Uber/Ola arrive, the government should help them strengthen their network and services instead, it allows autos to strike in opposition to these cab services taking away their market share. It also allows cab aggregators to use non-transparent structures for surge pricing, instead of monitoring their functioning so that the common man is not inconvenienced. The aim should be to keep private vehicle ownership to a minimum and such services can go a long way in ensuring this.

The government provides metro services in cities but without supplying it with a feeder bus system so that a metro traveller can be duly incentivised to use the Metro. Mumbai has a local train network and the city pays the most tax in the country and yet, there is no AC on any of the trains. Every year, people die on these trains of suffocation; yes, you read it right.

So, all I have to say is, this too shall pass. With a little help from N95 pollution masks and ENT doctors and anti-allergic medications. Those with the means will invest in air purifiers. And politicians will go on doing what they do. At the expense of people who elect them to positions of power.

Don’t say I shouldn’t blame the government. I do. The government should know better than 90% of its people. It has the means and resources to study issues, take empowered decisions and implement them, but it doesn’t. What it does is blame the people.

When will people understand..

That what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

‘What will we tell our daughters if Trump wins’?

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THREE days before Americans tell the world – for I’m hoping their decision is already made – who their new President is going to be, out comes this letter to parents of daughters (Link Here). While Lucia Brawley’s had indeed written a moving piece, a few thoughts on this important event.

It starts off with the gender of the candidates in focus. “If Trump wins, will the American people tell their daughters that after 44 male presidents there won’t be a woman?”

I am an Indian and we have a long tradition of women leaders. We’ve never had to have a suffragette movement, despite having to fight social ills such as the Sati, female foeticide and infanticide.

Indira Gandhi, the only woman Prime Minister we have had came to power in 1966 and ruled for a decade. She was an extremely powerful politician and took forward what was the Nehru family’s hold on dynastic power that continues to this day. There was a slogan her party used once: India is Indira and Indira is India.

Of Indira’s two daughters-in-law, Sonia Gandhi is officially still one of the most powerful politicians in India, with her son Rahul Gandhi now manouvering the Indian National Congress party. Notably, Indira kept mum, as did the rest of the family of political leaders from the Gandhi clan, when her other son, Sanjay Gandhi, went about forcibly sterilising the men across various geographies. Some men underwent the operation more than once. Indira’s other DIL, Maneka Gandhi is a Union Cabinet minister in the current Central government. Her son Varun Gandhi too is a politician.

Indira is the only prime minister in the Indian democracy to have slapped an Emergency on the Indian state for two long years. Sonia Gandhi’s hold over INC is stained by allegations of policy paralysis and large-scale corruption, too many scandals to count, and numbers so big that are difficult to even ascertain.

Looking at other women in politics, Mayawati holds sway over the most populous state in India, Uttar Pradesh. While she was lauded for improving the law & order situation in UP when she was in power as Chief Minister, she did make an example of unfettered spending of money for purposes that had nothing to do with development in a state that needs it critically and everything to do with sheer tokenism. She built memorials cost anywhere between USD 500 million to USD1.3 billion. She went to town erecting super size statues of herself and party leaders as well as pink elephants, her party’s symbol, over an area as big as a small town right in the heart of the state capital, Lucknow. And by the way, Newsweek described her as the Barack Obama of India, and is a potential Prime Ministerial candidate.

In the East is Mamata Bannerjee, current Chief Minister of West Bengal, is the first woman CM of the state and was previously the first woman Railways minister of India. Her rule has also been rocked by a corruption scandal (Saradha scam) and following an inquiry into it, 2 of her partymen are in jail. But, she’s really infamous for her comments following a rape in the state capital. She said that rape was a result of ‘more free interaction between men and women’. I quote: ‘Earlier if men and women would hold hands, they would get caught by parents and reprimanded but now everything is so open. It’s like an open market with open options’. Of late, there is outrage against her on social media for exhibiting sharp pro-minority leanings that have been often called appeasement politics.

Finally, Jayalalithaa of the South. She’s had several Chief Ministerial stints in the state of Tamil Nadu, but was disqualified from holding office during her previous stint due to a disproportionate assets case against her. Of course, she was acquitted in the case with many casting doubts on the authenticity… well! Apart from holding some 2,000 acres of land and 30kg of gold, she was known to have 12,000 saris. It’s possible that even with so much, we’re barely scratching the surface.

However. This is not to say that women in politics are corrupt, unfit, and inept but this IS to say that women in power are NO DIFFERENT than MEN in power. They’re equally corrupt for money, equally likely to abuse positions of power, and can be equally misogynistic. Of course, they’ve done a ton of good things for a lot of people at large, just like their male counterparts. The one thing they won’t do, like their male counterparts do, is “grab a ****y” in Donald Trump’s words. But, there’s no telling they won’t stand by silently and look past when the men around them do so. In fact, history proves they do exactly that at times.

So, when Ms. Brawley talks about ‘bigoted misogynist’, I wonder if she’s referring to Trump, Bill Clinton, or Hillary! Only the use of the word ‘Unqualified’ serves as a hint to The Donald.  

For, I don’t know of instances where Hillary came out in support of victims of Bill’s sexual assaults. I don’t know if she has ever supported them in any way. All I know is, she stood by her husband. What I do know is that it is some form of corruption to know something is wrong but to keep mum because you stand to gain from it.  

I recently came across a piece of news where a mother allowed her neighbour and his son to sexually abuse her 9-year-old twins, in exchange of money. The twins, who are not even 5th graders yet, complained to their schoolteacher, who then forwarded the complaint to the police. 

What we see, therefore, is that when it comes to power, it’s not about gender, it’s about the person. However, the gender debate is too attractive this time around to be dismissed. America is about to elect a woman president for the first time ever, certainly a milestone. But, it can’t be the main reason for her election.

Now, the part that bothers me the most. If you’ve noticed the current trends in open letters, you’ll see it mirroring our social behaviour. Sexual abuse is the only area where we challenge, question, doubt, punish the victim. All our open letters too are usually and mostly addressed to the women, girls, and daughters, rarely to the boys. So is this one.

Addressed to parents of daughters. Again through the gender angle.

If Trump wins, won’t Americans be telling their sons that it is okay to be a liar, a joker, a businessman who is not transparent, a braggart, a perv, an abuser… a fear monger, a hate monger, a “divisive, racist” force?!

So, what will we tell our daughters if Trump wins? Nothing we don’t already know.

The focus of this entire gender conversation needs to be boys and men and their role in the society. It is this role that creates situations of gender divide, by bringing out the worst in them. It keeps them away from realising their full humanity and throws them into a cycle of misogyny.

Parents of daughters are already doing their bit to change that. There is need to address parents of sons on this matter.

 

 

Ants in yoga pants

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Apparently last week, yoga pants got the best (!) of Alan Sorrentino, aged 63, a Rhode Island resident.

In a letter to a local newspaper, he blasted yoga pants, the ultimate in feel-good clothing for us women as the ‘absolute  worst thing to happen to women’s fashion since the mini skirt’. Insightfully, his tirade ventured the explanation “that, like the mini skirt, yoga pants are “adorable” on children and fit young women, but that the exercise ensemble is both “disturbing” and “bizarre” when stretched over the thighs of “mature, adult” ladies” Link here (Sunday Morning Herald).

Apparently, Sorrentino also declared later that his comment that was published in a local newspaper, was meant to be a satire and humorous but that didn’t stop about 400 women getting together to organise the ‘yoga pants parade’ during which they marched past his house.

 

 

All in all, great. Sorrentino’s appeal to women to “grow up” and make sensible sartorial choices is probably going to fall on deaf ears, no doubt. After all, if women were as smart as he wants us to be, you think mini skirts would have made it through generations of us…?

The reason why I’m writing this way past my bed time is that I want to add something to Sorrentino’s assertion that yoga pants is the “absolute worst thing” to happen to women’s fashion since mini skirt. And this is what I want to add: AND MEN. Mini Skirt and MEN. Because, most probably a man came up with the evil design of a mini skirt. And no, I won’t check up on fashion history. Just a random guess should suffice.

Because… men outside of fashion – men like Sorrentino – simply can’t get over themselves telling women what to do and what not to do. Other men who may not be like him but are outside of fashion might overthink the “message” the length or the fit or the shape of the apparel. Throughout history, such men’s opinions have played havoc on women’s fashions.

But, speak of men inside of fashion. You might call them worst offenders but frankly, fashion is an equal opportunity space – treating insiders and outsiders with equal importance. Just don’t forget: there are a lot more men in the profession of apparel design than women, just like many more professional cooks are men, rather than women.

I’ve had a string of harrowing experiences particularly when out buying a most common type of garment – a pair of jeans. It seems an unholy conspiracy against women to only stock up with super skinny, skinny, slim fit, the latter being the roomiest. I love Levi’s but even there, the most comfy BF jeans – the 501 series – comes in a torn version. I find brand new jeans worth around 5K that’s “distressed” and torn without ever being worn, utterly fake and disgraceful. It’s hardly flattering that when a woman wants to get into something comfortable, she must choose between skinny and super skinny.

Or between a torn 501 threadbare at the knees, no choice. In the big big metro of Mumbai, there are essentially just two Levi’s shops that stock the elusive 501. So unlike men, who have classic fit, straight fit, baggy jeans, and what not.

It’s a pity not to be able to find yoga shorts for women, the kinda loose-fitting knee-length shorts with pockets on the side that men wear during workouts. What you do find, a dime a dozen instead, are hot pants. Because, our job is to keep things hot, in’it?

It’s even worse for T-shirts. If you find a tennis tee, it’ll be pretty much figure-hugging around the bust, if round-necked, it’ll have shoulder cap sleeves or very short sleeves – not everyone’s cup of tea.

So the message is, Whatever the age, whatever your body type, whatever you do, look hot. That’s what the man outside fashion wants is what the man inside fashion thinks and therefore, designs. No one asks the woman what she’d like to wear.

So, hear ye, the women have spoken: Yoga pants rule. So do hot pants. And bodycon dresses. And all else underneath. Just,… go about your stuff like you should. Leave our wardrobes alone.

Thank you very much.

A woman in yoga pants is a happy woman, let her be.

‘Dear Liar’… an epistolary evening at Prithvi

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The one epistolary play I have been to so far left me feeling mesmerized. It was Tumhari Amrita, played by stalwarts of the ‘real acting’ world, Shabana Azmi and Farooq Sheikh.

This time again, it was Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah au pair, certainly no less promising. With Prithvi as the setting of Jerome Kilty’s play, Dear Liar, the evening held a lot of hope.

A word about the famous Prithvi: It’s cozy, extremely cozy, affording you a view of your actors from an arm’s length almost, seated if you are at the bottom front and side. Another amazing thing about this place is its regard for time. A minute late at Prithvi is a minute to late for the show. In that sense, Prithvi sends Indians on a short break from being themselves, and am saying this without being at all condescending. Sample this. 3 minutes before the play, we are bombarded with sounds of a cellphone ringing followed by those of gunshots being fired. The third time this plays out, all of us have made the Pavlovian connection… Just before we hear Naseeruddin Shah’s booming voice: Thank you for turning off your cellphones!

And then it began. Shaw’s and Mrs. Patrick Campbell’s portrait-sized photographs hung on either side of the stage. In the foreground on-stage, a writing desk, a hat box, a chair in one corner. Enter Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah, him, looking like a much shorter version of George Bernard Shaw, the beard firmly in place, and she, in a gold laced dress in ballroom flair, bell-sleeves and all (albeit a tacky, poor cousin of ballroom dresses anyway).

Jerome Kilty’s compilation is a skilled one, largely speaking, but I believe in the Indian version, or shall we say the Motley (Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre group is thus named) version is quite devoid of the accent, which would prop up their verrry English characters. It is one thing I missed sorely. And especially from Ms. Shah. At times it felt as if she was channeling her inimitable and excellent character of Maya Sarabhai from Sarabhai vs Sarabhai. I just lurrrrrv that show so much!

But yes, Mrs. Pat (as Mrs. Campbell was know among the English circles of her time), was an understudy to Maya Sarabhai last evening. It jarred a bit. Because, I have seen Naseeruddin Shah in Einstein, balancing his persona on that German accent quite well indeed. I believe it absolutely possible for him to pull off G B Shaw from that point of view. I wonder if he held himself back.

As for the play, yes in moments it was touching, in moments it was just passable. Probably the greatest thing about it was actually watching Naseer and Ratna Shah together on stage. And they do have a chemistry. What truly amazed me was their ability to memorize those lines to perfection.

Also, Prithvi makes everything delightful. Something about that place.

There were questions in my mind aplenty, however. The letters mark a strong, intimate relationship GBS had with this enchantress as he liked to call her, Mrs. Pat. She was his Stella and he, her Joey (she named him so after a clown). The passion is there, and there are moments of laughter too: “When you were a little boy, someone should have said ‘hush’ to you once”, said she to he.

What amazes me about that time in that part of the century that this correspondence and subsequent time it does under the spotlight of stage does great disservice to Stella. She couldn’t spell right, or write well, she wasn’t of an intellectual bent of mind and all that jazz. But for the fact that GBS was mad about her. So much that of his numerous such affairs, she was the only person who came close to threatening his marriage.

You see, while there’s a lot of scrutiny about her intellectual capacity, there’s very little about his. Intellectual prowess is perhaps not only about writing well, and taking stands on various subjects of politics or philosophy, of course literature. It is, perhaps, also about sensitivity and fealty. Anyway, much has been said about that by John Osbourne, that fierce critic of GBS.

All in all, a fine evening in the heart of Mumbai. Got back home loaded with thoughts, words, and reflection. Which is huge!

PS: And this cat didn’t get to watch the play because it was running to full house.

 

Of Sakshis, Sindhus, and Dipas of India

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Rio 2016 became a much talked about event in India, and our country was trolled by  international media for being the worst Olympics participating nation ever in terms of per person medal count.

This time our contingent was 117 strong. Our medal tally: 2. One bronze (Sakshi Malik, wrestling) and one silver (PV Sindhu, badminton).

The New Zealand Herald has called us the ‘worst country at the Olympics’ and Brit journalist Piers Morgan unleashed a Twitter war calling it embarrassing to have won just 2 medals for 1.2billion people. Indians reacted wildly – as many supporting, seconding his views and as many trashing him.

What none of this could dampen, however, were two celebrations: One in Hyderabad welcoming PV Sindhu, and the other, welcoming Sakshi Malik in Bahadurgarh, Haryana. These women are our medal winners.

There was a joke shared recently on my Whatsapp group: India mein, subzi se leke medals tak lene ladkiyon ko hi jana padta hai (In India, to get anything from vegetables to medals, it’s only the girls that have to go!). It wasn’t long before it descended into a gender discourse.

But, what was worse was the official line being taken by well-known personalities such as the office of the Chief Minister, Haryana, and others. Two women bringing medals and Dipa doing the deadly Produnova were instances used to endorse the anti-female foeticide & infanticide stance.

I don’t think it does anything for the real message: That girls have the right to exist, thrive, and live; safely, securely, and with love.

Sakshi’s father is a bus conductor with DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) and PV Sindhu’s father is with the Railways, while Dipa’s father is a top weight lifting coach with the Sports Authority of India. All three have this in common: extremely supportive families. Sindhu’s father is an Arjuna awardee and her mother a volleyball player. So, a sports background certainly helped.

What really helped, though, was that their families have human beings, who feel, love, and support one another. Many of us don’t. Those of us who are daunted by the birth of a daughter because we’ll have to spend a lifetime educating & caring for them without any RoI (Return on Investment) i.e. when she gets married, which, to make possible again will need my life’s savings, we are the people who abort the foetus, kill them, deprive them, harass them.

This is a financial conundrum that poses as a cultural/traditional conundrum, that is the truth and I will say it, believe it or not. This culture only looks at what do I, as a parent, as the one in whom this family originated, wants. That’s why a girl leaving home after marriage is seen as a loss, and a boy whom you can ‘keep’, who’ll also take a wife down the line (with the dowry she’ll bring), who’ll both look after me in my old, seen as a profitable way to make a living.

You think it’s not that simple? This is a tradition that started in an agrarian economy, peasantry, it can’t be more complicated than that either. Yes, the honour, heir, angles got added later, but the basics remain.

Now when we forward the idea that we should let girls live because they’ll bring us medals, is the same as saying keep the boy because he’ll bring in the livelihood. But we all know how the latter affection has turned out: it has given birth to a rigid patriarchy that affects boys just as badly.

Going with a wrong idea for short-term gains is ultimately, WRONG. Both genders have a right to live. Period. If as parents you think your culture puts you as a daughter’s parent at a disadvantage, then you know what your fight looks like and you should have it in you to fight it.

If you don’t you’re not a parent. You’re some scum who only sought to get laid, gambler who bet on a 50-50 chance of a desirable result, and a monster who has no conscience needed to kick in when witnessing an injustice in order to act against it. If you can’t parent a daughter, you can’t parent a son. You can’t parent. Period. And the same can be said about a nation.

So, may be you can say ‘Beti Bachao’, while choosing Sakshi Malik as its brand ambassador, I see us women day in and day out wrestling with social and political apathy, sexual harassment and abuse, domestic violence, psychological violence, gender-based discrimination. I see our hopes doing a Produnova every day a significant figure and public face rubbishes our predicament as victims of all kinds of violence and injustices. Especially men saying that era of discrimination is officially over now that we have put girls through schools and women through colleges.

To them I have to say, there is life and then there’s living. To live means to have the hope of achieving something that is important to you. Most of our women don’t have that. PV Sindhu’s family moved closer to Hyderabad to make it possible for her to keep training. Her father was enlisted in Pullela Gopichand’s ‘Project Rio’ a year before the games were to begin. And he took an 8-month leave from work to spend every minute by his daughter’s side, constantly motivating her. This, in a country where a lot of men don’t even visit their newly born daughter in the hospital.

It is these families that are families in a true sense of the word. They know the meaning of struggle and their kid winning a medal is just one of the many wins they have won along the way. Every family that has a daughter fights these battles every day of their lives. I think of my parents who constantly worry about how I am doing on the mean streets of Mumbai.

I dedicate this post to all those families raising happy daughters (also happy daughters in law) – you’re the only real parents in this country. Your daughters don’t have medals but that’s just one small thing. And to Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, and PV Sindhu, thank you for being our cheerleaders!

(picture: Dipa Karmakar, a still from a youtube video, got off the net)

A Sunday drenched in heavy rains…

Sticky

What do you do when you can’t write? What do you do when you don’t want to write? What do you when this is because you desperately NEED to write?

You write.

Soh much has happened in the 20 days since I wrote last. And every moment since, I’ve felt like writing. I’ve felt pressured into writing something ‘significant’ but never got to start because I knew that wasn’t the time (Do YOU, reader, ever get that feeling? Of wanting to do something well or not do it at all?); I felt like I just didn’t have my thoughts together yet. Talk about perfect being the enemy of good.

Let’s see.

Terrorism seems to be really on over the past two weeks, as with gun violence in the US of A. It’s a world going potty. Ever imagine why it’s always men going loopy and barbaric and violent? Syria, Bangladesh, Germany, France… the list goes on. The religion of peace trying its best to keep it down. Yes, some of you will fine me politically incorrect but ask those who perpetrated these violent acts; they think they are the only true followers of this religion. So, it doesn’t really matter what we guys think about their religiousness. We’re not pointing the guns at others, they are. That they have the raw material to go ahead with this all is appalling, yes.

Qandeel Baloch, the Pakistani model non-confirmist was killed by her brother because he somehow believed (as do most men) that her sort of actions were bringing dishonour to their family name. The father now wants ‘revenge’ and wants his son to be ‘shot’. Uff, men!

And then, gun violence. And Obama’s speeches on gun control. Put that on a loop. But that won’t be enough to drown out Trump’s calls for sheer constitutional anarchy. Of course, Hillary’s speech was something but I wouldn’t bet on her just yet. It’s interesting how people are asking about how DNC mails got leaked instead of investigating possible punitive measures for wrongdoing and thinking how to right those wrongs.

Back home, Barkha Dutt blew the war bugle at Arnab Goswami when the latter shouted into TV screens about journos who are forwarding Pakistani agenda on the Kashmir issue. It was a generic rant specific enough only to lead us to infer that he may have been talking about Barkha and the likes of her. Surprising as it is for the common man, Barkha was paying attention and did manage, over all the noise Arnab creates, to actually hear what he was saying.

She took it that it was she he was talking about. Barkha Dutt is very important, mind you. Especially to herself. So she ranted out tweets twisting Arnab’s words, and because Arnab didn’t care, he didn’t come back at her. As a result, she refused to “give a toss” about the whole thing and conveyed this in the manner of a looooongish FB post. Then a blog followed in order to keep stirring the pot. Oh, in between, did I mention she got an endorsement from Hafiz Saeed?

Hafiz Saeed who? He’s the chief of a terrorist organisation operating out of Pakistan, and regularly hatches plans for terrorist acts in my country, India. I really hope that while Barkha was busy being so prolific on social media, she took out a moment to thank Saeed on his LinkedIn profile. It’s an endorsement that got Barkha noticed and how!

At the time of writing this, the issue festers. Because Barkha won’t let go. Barkha wants to have her cake and eat it too. She wants to speak against ‘violence’ in the Kashmir Valley without calling it ‘terrorism’ sponsored by the Pakistani state.

She wants to cry for a state whose people (only those inspired by Hurriyat Conference and their ilk, let me be fair) push women and children in the frontlines of a mob pelting stones as well as molotov cocktails so that Indian Army using pellets instead of real guns in the face of REAL THREAT would be deterred on humanitarian grounds. She supports their calls for their Azaadi because of what she’s smoking in her leftist-socialist-intellectual utopia that only knows how to piss on the idea of the very statehood that allows her to call out for Azaadi for people threatening that statehood. This is not very intellectual, actually. It’s definitely not Leftist or Socialist. It’s sheer abuse of the freedom that the statehood affords her.

And now let’s touch what the likes of Barkha sympathise with. The killing of Burhan Wani. The bad boy of Kashmir Valley. The Indian Army neutralised him for conducting terrorist activities and using social media to lure people into joining terrorist groups. He was a terror propagandist, something like social media marketing of terror. That makes him a terrorist. This went on on our TV screens while Kashmiris (those who support separatism and also, terrorism) mourned, protested, and indulged in violence against their own Army.

Intellectuals were bothered that a “boy” – 22 years old at the time of his death – was gunned down by the armed forces. They forget that this boy was a ‘commander’ with Hizbul Mujahideen. They wondered if he should have been killed in such a manner! He picked up arms at the age of 15 by the way; in a parallel universe, he could have picked up studies or tennis or knitting. He went pro a few years ago. Yet, he remained a boy. By those standards, don’t all men? (they want their toys, their place in the team, and will go to any length to protect them). Besides, he was of marriageable age, and old enough to vote.

Ironically, women, even when they become CEOs, are derisively referred to as ‘girls’ and 18 year old Miss Universes dying to lift people out of poverty are called young women.

Coming back to Kashmir, you won’t find so much anger against the rape of young Kashmiri girls and women by army men.

Burhan’s killing was a state goal and the Army’s mission and their duty. Somehow, when a terrorist dies, Kashmir mourns and bleeds. When citizens are raped… An armyman committing a crime versus doing his duty. There’s something very wrong and very twisted here.

As with the rest of my country and its people. A gang of robbers today waylaid a car in which a family was travelling, took them aside, and raped the mother and daughter before taking away their belongings. 12 men raped these two women for 3 hours. This happened in Noida. Again men.

What’s wrong with you men, I wonder. Your concept of honour, love, society, relationships seems seriously dented and damaged. Is it you or is it the society? Wait. You make the society because your word rules. So, it is you, after all. And we women get lost in your maze of untruths and half-truths, compete in a game that’s hardly fair, hardly a game anyway.

I’m going to use a picture of Qandeel with this post. This world is cruel but some of us make it beautiful and worth living.

Uber, a symbol of class conversion

Sticky

The other day I was with a friend and we found ourselves talking about how much our lives have changed since Uber / Ola hit the roads in our city. Very much, we realised. But not just for us, also for the drivers.

First stop, Convenience. Had to be, of course. For many, it’s not just about hailing a four-wheeler when and where… it’s also about beating the frustration and fatigue of massive, ceaseless traffic full of knuckleheads who couldn’t be bothered about traffic rules. In India, that’s putting it mildly. Given that daily commute on busy roads is one of the major contributors to work stress, many like me take succour in just hailing a cab. Surge or no surge.

Next comes Cost. And not for everyone. What delights the Indian commuter is that in many cases, a ride in an Ola Mini/Micro or Uber Go costs much the same as that in an autorickshaw. They maybe commonly referred to as autos but autorickshaws derive their name from the word jinricksha – of Japanese/Chinese origin, meaning handcarts. Versus that, advantage cab: track the ride; AC; closed and therefore, safer; luxurious; custom payment mode; ability to use maps… Cool, right?

Third and final, Communication. The real topic of our conversation here. In the pre-Uber/Ola era, communication with the auto driver meant basically asking him whether he ‘wants to go’ where you wanted to. A whole lot of times, you ask him, ‘Bhaiya Ghatkopar?’ only to see him shaking his bob while steering his three-wheeler away from you. Little regard for the job he was doing and even less his courtesy for you.

The next step was may be arguing over which route to take. Then may be admonishing him over his need for speed. Then may be haggling about not having change, or the right fare, or where exactly he agreed to drop you off versus where you wanted him to. A generous exchange of swear words is never ruled out as an option if it turns out you are both having a bad day. It was not pretty and it still isn’t. My last week’s trip to Thane is a recent reminder. Had to “ask out” literally 15 autos before one agreed to drive me to a particular ‘naka‘ just because “time ho gaya madam, abhi badli karne ka hai” (change of shift between drivers).

This ALLLLLL has changed in the Uber / Ola era. Here, we have real conversations. Because there is greater respect. Both ways, I see. These are your private drivers on a short hire. They are courteous, most of the times (is it because their work is incentivised based on the stars you give in your feedback ? Or is it because they are actually happier doing this job? And, are they happier because they HAVE incentives?); they are not temperamental as they would have been otherwise (is it the stars again?).

There. I said it. So when my friend and I got to this part, we couldn’t but help look at each other. It struck us both exactly what it was we were really talking about. You see, a large number of the drivers working for Uber/Ola are those who have been working for someone or the other before as well. Why is it only now that conversations are in the spotlight for the simple reason that they exist?

Well, because something has enabled their existence. And that’s the beauty of technology. The app-based system has made both parties come together on the same platform to do something together. Our respect for each other has grown considerably. Our perception of the other too has changed. Especially on the customer’s side. We no longer take these men and women (in some cities) as ‘just a driver’ like we used to before.

I’ve actually been driven by an engineer who owns 2 cars he manages with Uber, employs 2 drivers for doing so, and has earlier worked where I have too. Someone once told me that a good engineer will manage to find ways to maximise the outcome with the least of resources, whichever be the field he is in. This guy has done so. He has maximised his earning potential with very little investment and inconvenience to himself.

When my parents came visiting, we were driven by an old-ish man who was clearly at peace with life; cracking jokes, stopping for pedestrians, and yet, overtaking at unlikeliest of places and having a good time, clearly. The only difference is, some of them request you to give them the ‘stars’ and some don’t.

SO, when some people talk about how an ‘engineer’ or ‘entrepreneur’ would put up with being a ‘mere cab driver’, I am amused. They speak as if they are themselves doing their dream job, living their dream lives, and following their dream career. How many of us really do, anyway! And wouldn’t most of us would stop working the day our work didn’t earn us that pay check, however passionate we claim to be about our work?

What Uber is doing is dissolving boundary lines of class. This is what education was supposed to do but it achieved quite the opposite. The scene is changing now that we have ‘educated’ drivers. I’m sure the day is not far when we have ‘educated’ domestic helps and electricians and janitors and plumbers… evidently, they take less advantage of the system and are less likely to abuse the power they have than the ‘educated’ or the ‘highly educated’ lot such as our babus and MBAs and CEOs and whatnot.

At this point, would it be too far a stretch to refer to The Bhagavad Gita and what happened between Arjun and Krishna during the all-important battle of Kurukshetra? Krishna, the lord incarnate, drove Arjun’s, a mere mortal’s chariot. Not only that, he also drove Arjuna’s side to victory.

All am saying is, perhaps it’s time to look at and perceive life out of the boxes we have constructed for ourselves and lived in for too long.

Besides, if money is what you are looking at, you could read this perhaps: TOI article on how senior execs take to driving and one of my favourite blogs on finance (financialsamurai.com) explaining what’s an aerospace engineer doing driving for Uber.

Anyway, keep calm and hail a cab tomorrow.

 

 

Oh, Serena!

Sticky


So, recently in a conversation with a guy in my circle of friends, we were talking sports. It’s unusual with me but it was happening this one day. 

So this guy mentions that it’s hardly women’s tennis if Serena’s playin. She’s as big as a man. And a big man too. 

And I say that’s my kinda girl. 

She’s grand slam that’s what she is. 22 times over. 

Happy day! 

On relationships

Sticky

Feeling pretty sombre today. As thoughts turn toward relationships, I can’t but ponder how we, as a collective, find safety in institutions.

Love? make it a relationship.

Commitment? make it a marriage.

Parenthood? make it a family.

Learning? make it a school. A college. An institution.

Friendship? … well.. call it a friendship.

Then standardise some basic rules.

And then, do everything to protect those rules.

If it’s love, it has got to feel a certain way prescribed by poets and cynics and scientists. If it’s marriage, it’s got to function the way it benefits the most dominant paradigm of society, power, division of labour, etc. If it’s parenthood, it’s got to look selfless at least, abide by a certain image, and do justice to a certain set of expectations that take much from traditions and prevalent culture more than they do from what the future might need. If it’s friendship, it’s many things at times far removed from any sense of fairness or individuality. If it’s learning, well, it equals opportunity to multiply wealth at the cost of the learner’s independence, good health at times, and even well-being.

What does this all mean? It means that human society has a damaged core.

You can’t dictate life. You can’t codify living.

If you want to examine how healthy a relationship is, see if things have got better with you ever since.

I remember my grandmother saying something special about the Banyan tree, known in India as the Vad (in Gujarati, my mother tongue) or Bargad (in Hindi, our national language). The great Banyan is also referred to as the Kalpavriksha, meaning the tree that fulfils one’s wishes; the Buddha gained enlightenment under a Banyan tree. The Banyan also stands for longevity and wisdom, as it survives for centuries, standing strong, spreading a huge canopy as it grows.

In all of my gran’s storytelling, people used to rest under a Banyan tree whenever they were travelling from one village to another. Its canopy providing shelter from the hot sun or downpour of rain, helping hide oneself from robbers and dacoits which abound in stories of the yore.

However, when asked as to why we didn’t have a Banyan in our little courtyard filled with mogra and jasmine and okra and kundru/tendli (ivy gourd in English) and Ashoka trees standing upright, she’d say planting a Banyan is no good. It belongs in the forests. Not in homes.

Why?

Because nothing grows beneath a Banyan.

With its canopy so dense and so expansive, with its trunk expanding with every year, a banyan, if it stands for wisdom and longevity, demands a huge price for it all.

Now, when I look to understand relationships, this dialogue of ours invariably comes to mind. Do you want to plant a banyan or do you want a wild forest of your own?

Nothing grows beneath a banyan. You can sit under it for a few moments of rest. Tie its prop roots to make a swing even. But if you want fruits or flowers, a banyan won’t let you. It’s too big to allow for that.

A banyan is all about its own significance.

A banyan signifies an edifice. Not a relationship.

When institutions or relationships or even great human beings become edifices, only insignificant and useless moss grows beneath.

It sometimes amuses me to think that we treat the Banyan as a symbol of wisdom. It promises rest, repose, and seclusion. Not nurture, growth, and creation. A classic symbol of what our institutions have become.

Hey, little fella!

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I was on my super fast brisk walk when nature caught me… at snail’s pace.

I came across this little fella crossing over to the other side of the pavement and I stood there observing. And clicking.

And, suddenly, there it was! This little one looked beautiful the way it was, doing what it was doing, going where it was going. And a trail of slime was all he had to show for it. And then it struck me, don’t we all?

The beautiful thing was, it was the day after Mumbai’s first rains of the season, the air laden with moisture, but a breezy morning, bright and sunny; the kind that comes on the day after rains.

 

 

Call it ’20 minutes of action’

Sticky

I’ve been following the Stanford rape case trial sitting here in India and it’s looking great in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The outpouring of anger against Brock Turner and the judge that gave him a measly six month sentence, and that of support for the unconscious intoxicated woman indicates that wheels are turning.

However, we have Brock’s dad to thank for exemplary parenting. Brock must have done him proud. Swimming smoothly on a swimming scholarship to Stanford, one of the world’s topmost colleges, Brock Turner is your classic lad with super bright future. He hails from a middle class background and loves to eat steaks. Even though he doesn’t feel like eating them now. That’s because he’s depressed about a whole case some woman made out of the 20 minutes of action he got.

In 20 minutes, Brock Turner can swim Long Course i.e. 50 meters at least 5 times. With such swimming times, you end up a finalist at things like Speedo Junior National Championships. He’s also been a two-time state champion at Ohio State Championships. Evidently, the lad can score.

Not only does he get on top of fellow super swimmers, admissions into stanford, and he also manages to get on top of drunk, unconscious women. He’s the exemplar. And backing him all the way is his father. Dan Turner. Another exemplar. A whole line of exemplars. Wait. And we arrive at the definition of patriarchy.

These dads seem to have a code:

  1. Rape is 20 minutes of action.
  2. To rape is to get 20 minutes of action. Consent is for sissies.
  3. If a woman is drunk and ‘dances’ (strictly subjective, since coming from Brock), she wants to give you 20 minutes of action.
  4. 4. If you are getting 20 minutes of action and some idiots try to stop you from getting it, run. And then deny. Then explain how she wanted it and you gave it, you, of the big heart. All in exchange for a back rub. Also, if she tries to use that word rape, correct it and call it 20 minutes of action.
  5. It does not matter that you drink yourself silly but if something female does so, she’s doing it so as to make sure you get 20 minutes of action. She’s liable to give you 20 minutes of A and you’re liable to get 20 minutes of A. That’s all. Don’t bother to ask her. You’ll waste time that way. And that’s for sissies anyway.
  6. When she accuses you of rape, again that filthy word, bring your past record and future greatness into the conversation and project it onto the jury, the judge, and the media. After all, they owe you!

Footnote: if the woman who gave you 20 minutes of A has a past record of having a great social life, sex life, boyfriends, husbands, etc, it matters. (Just like swimming times, for example). It means she wanted more and more to give you your 20 minutes of action.

Finally, when you don’t enjoy eating steak anymore, it means you are upset. And you, the gem of mankind, don’t deserve that.

You see, Dan Turner is a smart guy. Read between the lines and you see him trying to tell us that his son wasn’t getting 20 minutes of action; he was giving it.

Exemplary sons, exemplary dads. Patriarchy explained in 4 words. Full stop.

And now,

Here’s a small excerpt from Stanford victim’s letter, which doesn’t challenge the central tenets of patriarchy so much as provides a strong statement for women trying to survive it. It also thanks the two men who fell off the vicious cycle of patriarchy…

“Most importantly, thank you to the two men who saved me, who I have yet to meet. I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed to remind myself there are heroes in this story. That we are looking out for one another. To have known all of these people, to have felt their protection and love, is something I will never forget.

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”

Aynjal and Sinner

Sticky

Hey Aynjal,

we have a sinner fo’ ya!

Don’t embarrass me by having to catch you up.

Here, watch this if you can afford to (Be warned – you risk your sanity): mankind’s angel by Tahir Shah, the one and only. It’s ayn-jal I know. Whatever Tahir Shah says.

Now, this grand man with angelic aspirations and devilish sense of confidence from Pakistan has competition.

Our own Jacintha Morris. From Kerala. With her Is Suzann a sinner?, she’s the next thing going viral.

Of course, she’s not too happy about people like me comparing her work with that of Tahir Shah but for obvious reasons, we shall let it glide. I’m not comparing Morris with Tahir Shah. Shah did not take the video off. Beat that Jacinth Morris!

Let it be noted that she has taken down her video after the endless echo of laughter emanating from the internet, but I’ve made this observation: once viral, twice shared.

So, thank you Scroll.in for making my day.

Now comes the funny bit:

He (aynjal). She (sinner). He from Pakistan. She from India. He. Talking about uplifting mankind into divinity. She. questioning the downfall of Suzann.

Better than Indo-Pak cricket?

Much. Thank you very much.

Keep it up folks!

 

The Rosie Project, A Bill Gates Recco

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I have a thing for nerds and geeks. It’s called avoidance. (Not total avoidance by the way. I missed MS Office on my Mac so I got it installed).

But, when I visited Bill Gates’ blog, I found it fun, warm, and interesting, something I don’t expect. The latter fuels my avoidance thing. I guess I changed that setting for once and lo and behold! I went for The Rosie Project. Actually, what helped was that Bill recco-ed the book to Melinda and apparently she liked it too.

So, if there was a book that could make nerds likeable, The Rosie Project is it. Some forums are calling it chick lit. Well, going by some of these folks, anything not written by Kafka, Chuck Palahniuk, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez for instance, qualifies as chick lit. And I don’t come back feeling like a bouquet of fresh roses after a reading of The Fight Club. So, chick lit or not, I’m happy to say I have something in common with Bill and Melinda Gates.

Prof. Don Tillman is a university professor, engaged in research in genetics, has Asperger’s and doesn’t know it, falls for a girl called Rosie and can’t help it.

Of course he gets the girl! #spoileralert 

And of course, the way he goes about is very interesting.

He makes changes in himself with the kind of will and self-aware determination that few of us would be able to without a complete overhaul of our respective egos. That said, Rosie loves him too. By the way. It may seem incredible, and at times very ‘chick lit’, that whole idea of ‘if you love someone, you accept them the way they are’; but well, ideals serve as lighthouses to ships floating in the dark.

So, The Rosie Project meets with successful completion.

Then cometh the next step: The Rosie Effect

Getting the girl is one thing. Keeping her is quite another.

Going for it? Oh yes. Sequel it up.

Middle class: In US, a shrinking reality and in India, an illusion

Sticky

The term middle class evokes strange reactions in India. For us Indians, we all, most of us who’d probably know this term, qualify as middle class. For us, there also exist terms such as lower middle class and upper middle class, used to justify many behaviours and ideologies as per our convenience: when it comes to spending, we choose to range ourselves next to lower middle class, when it comes to our expectations as regards services, we cross over to the upper middle class. And, when it comes to laughing at high-class snobbery, we recall Maya Sarabhai of the (Sarabhai vs Sarabhai fame) who had a distinct dislike for the “middle class”.

It’s a very interesting thing, this middle class. Because in India, you also see the middle class ‘mentality’, always spoken about in disparaging terms. That’s another one of Indian contradictions – everyone wants to identify as middle class, and everyone wants to look down upon middle class mentality. Probably because it’s narrow, conservative, restrictive of freedoms identified with the ‘high’ income group & lifestyle.

I’m really not kidding. Read this article by scroll.in on Pew Research Center’s report on how everyone in India thinks they are ‘middle class’ and almost no one actually is with only 2 per cent of Indians actually living in this bracket. Let the number sink in. The great Indian middle class is just 2 per cent of Indians. India is home to more than a billion people.

AND, get a load of this: nearly 49 per cent of Indian people (sample size 2/3rds urban and 1/3rd rural) self-identifies with the Indian middle class. This finding is as per a survey cited in one of the most prestigious newspapers of the country, the Hindu, link here on ‘being middle class in India’ and how people identifying with the middle class experience a psychological effect of being upbeat about their status in life as well as their prospects about the future.

Also, considering a Credit Suisse assessment of the Indian middle class (read article here – Business Standard), the latter is a select club of nearly only 24 million people, and not 264 million people; Credit Suisse arrived at the new figure by taking into account their wealth and not income as others had before.

And yet, to reiterate, the same report also talks about the lack of a clear definition of the middle class in India. Also, for an Indian to qualify as middle class, he/she needs to have nearly Rs.700,000 in the bank and or income of Rs. 61,000 every month. However, whether here or there even by a decent margin, our middle class seems to have arrived.

This means, most Indians are far removed from reality and it’s doing them good. No Doubt. They’re voting in droves, they’re voting “right-wing” as they call it…

Now, on the other hand, the same middle class – although it can never be the same; Americans can afford a much higher standard of living – is disappearing in the US. Again a study done by the same Pew Research Centre which says the middle class is dying… which statement Richard Eskow has aptly questioned in this blog Vox Populi link here and suggested in its stead a new one: ‘The middle class is being killed’. Actual report from Pew Research Centre here: America’s Shrinking Middle Class.

The American middle class, unlike the Indian middle class, is not a figment of the mass’ imagination. It’s a well-researched, well-studied case and Pew says that families today can be in the “middle” in terms of income and yet still not make enough to live on – the median income for middle-class households fell by nearly 5 per cent between 2000 and 2014. Their median wealth (assets minus debt) declined by 28 per cent after the housing market crisis and subsequent Great Recession.

So, where did all the money go is the big question. The answer, according to Eskow is, the wealthiest among us. The people on top. The creamy layer only got thicker. Economist Emanuel Saez found that the top 1 percent of Americans captured more than half of the total income growth from 1993 to 2014, the last year covered by the Pew report, says the blog.

You almost want to cheer them on!

Inequality, in one word.

Anyway, why am I discussing all this? Because, India’s middle class is its backbone. As we have already seen, it’s more a SENTIMENT than a real thing for most people. The signs are ominous, however, in the face of all that’s going on. A sluggish global economy, competition in the domestic markets, a demand scenario that looks bleak in case market falls…

The real issue is, the Indian public from lower income group, before it even figures out how to make it to the hallowed middle class, will find the carpet snatched from under their feet if the policymakers do not hurry up on the economic reforms. And in this sense, we have something in common with America, after democracy. Corruption and political short-sightedness and opportunism.

Because in India, an MBA degree is now available a dime a dozen and yet, there’s no guarantee that an MBA will be able to write a decent formal email; there are engineers who’ve never been near a live electrical circuit… These middle class Indians, for they have been able to afford formal and professional education, will need something to lean on. And if India continues to go the American way, even this illusion of being ‘middle class’ will shatter.

 

More Ferrante

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I’ve seen that women are raving about these books, which in their opinion reflect a precise understanding of friendships in the world of women.

From the book, reflection on an age-old question: why men do what they do and the way they do it.

“You know why the Solara brothers think they’re the masters of the neighbourhood?”

“Because they are aggressive”

“No, because they have money”

“You think so?”

“Of course. Have you noticed that they’ve never bothered Pinuccia Carracci?”

“Yes.”

“And you know why they acted the way they did with Ada?”

“No.”

“Because Ada doesn’t have a father, her brother Antonio counts for nothing, and she helps Melina clean the stairs of the building.”

I wonder if the original Italian version is as simple.

Catching up on Ferrante

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Yeah, no point holding out. Better get on to the bandwagon. Heard about the Daft Punk of the literary world: Elena Ferrante, through a friend who reads like I eat 🙂 This was about 2015 year-end.

Intrigued as I was I still had to trawl through my list. Which I did. And then I didn’t. For Ferrante. To figure out if the Neapolitan novels are actually that good or is it that the anonymity of the author (whom many suppose to be actually an authoress “for only a woman can understand so deeply the nuances of female friendship” or some such thing said The Guardian article on the same) that’s the best thing about these books?

Well, to me, so far, it’s the latter. However.

Here’s a passage that tells me Neapolitan novels (set in the 60s I guess) and much of Indian reality have something in common.

“Then why should your sister, who is a girl, go to school?”

The matter almost always ended with a slap in the face for Rino, who,one way or another, even if he didn’t intend to, had displayed a lack of respect toward his father. The boy, without crying, apologised in a spiteful tone of voice. 

Well, I looked up Elena Ferrante and up came a message board ‘FerranteFever’, a website in ‘her’ name and a Goodreads profile. BTW, Wiki knows she was born in 1943.

It quotes Ferrante: ‘Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.’

Can’t argue with that. I guess FerranteFever is yet to grip me.

 

 

Fashionably slow

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Until this morning I knew not about #30wears, started by Livia Firth, whose existence I have ignored and denied in my head, totally enamoured as I am with Colin Firth, totally beyond ‘The edge of reason’. Easy Virtue, King’s Speech, Ohhh! Him and Hugh Grant. Which is why, Bridget Jones for me is like that Eden of my dreams.

Anyway, back to the Missus. So, Livia launched Eco-Age, and GCC, Green Carpet Challenge, recognising best practices in the fashion industry. Emma Watson has recently endorsed it by wearing a dress made of recycled plastic bottles, I don’t exactly know how many. Mrs. Firth challenges celebs to cavort in media glare while daring to wear an outfit a full 30 times. Or something like that. Actually, she encourages people to buy an outfit only if they’ll wear it 30 times. Apparently, her campaign is super successful.

Imagine this against the backdrop of my reality: I read this in Mumbai Mirror, Namrata Zakaria’s column on Slow Fashion link here. In my wardrobe hang a couple of items that have been with me for more than a decade. They serve their purpose to this day; pairs of jeans that also compliment me every time for not having expanded since those college days. I recall the time in 1998 when I had exactly 3 dresses to wear for ‘when I am out’. Which means not just a friend’s party party but also a regular bicycle ride to the tuition class. Black polka dots, red polka dots, a lemon yellow frock with green buttons and two pockets in the front – ‘sandy beach’ embroidered in green on the left panel. Yes, that was atrocious, no doubt. I owe my present madness about casual clothing to that constricted wardrobe of my early teens. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Yet, that was better than what most people in India have even now. Especially in the rural areas. My grandmother had a compact folding ‘charkha’ (spinning wheel). I delighted in Ms. Zakaria’s reference of Lucy Siegle’s words ‘Mahatma Gandhi didn’t have multinational fashion in mind’ when speaking of the rise of the Slow Fashion movement. We are now realising the damage we are doing to our very own existence by indulging our self-hate and insecurities through our fickle and feckless world of fashion, much perpetuated by page-3 termites that scream blue murder every time Kate Middleton repeats a dress.

GCC may be a very good idea in that part of the world but in this one, where 300+ farmers have killed themselves this year, #30wears is anything but aspirational in a twisted fashion. This is the culture of built to last rising like a phoenix from the ashes. Or is it? Ironically, while #30wears becomes a hashtag there, a hot trend, back in India, people are gobbling up mass-produced fast fashion sold under cheap labels like there’s no tomorrow. Little knowing that there isn’t, for many farmers.

As for me, I just invested in some khadi today. Go Khadi! Go slow…

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Dr. Narang case: Presstitutes strike back

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Dr. Pankaj Narang never knew what he had coming when he got out of the scuffle with bike riders, and went back home. A half hour later, he was dragged out of his home by a crazed mob of 12-15, beaten with hockey sticks and such… Dr. Narang fell unconscious and later died at a private hospital.

The main attackers’ names were, apparently, Nasir and Amir (Times of India news story – Link here). You’d say why is this important? It’s important because I am not talking about how Dr. Pankanj Narang died. Nor am I talking about the religion bit involved here; don’t think it’s not. What I am talking about is the way the news report JUSTIFIES the act of communal mob violence committed against this man in an utterly premeditated, brutal way. Don’t forget that Dr. Narang was killed after being dragged out from his home, with his brother-in-law by his side, and in his son Aditya’s presence.

Examine this paragraph from the news report carried in all main editions of The Times of India – Whether it was pent-up rage, aggravated by economic disparity, or sheer goondaism, Dr Narang won’t have bargained for this when he had returned to his house after his brother-in-law, Vikas Sethi, intervened and resolved the matter.

I am yet to come across such a shameful example of offering justification for a crime in a news report, and calling it a news report. I wonder that Jyoti Singh Pandey’s rape wasn’t a result of economic disparity!

Someone commits a pre-meditated murder, and is that someone is from this particular minority community, as well as falls in a lower economic strata, the crime can be justified on the basis of economic disparity! And the justification is not coming in any court of law, it’s coming from a newspaper, which is subtly and subconsciously trying to colour people’s minds! Don’t believe it? Look what was the headline when two buffalo herders were killed – 2 Muslims herding buffaloes thrashed, hanged in Jharkhand. Going by that, what should the present report have been headlined as? – Hindu Dentist brutally thrashed, killed by Muslim mob. No? Why not?

In coming across this crime, in coming across only this crime, why does the newspaper offer us probable causes or explanations? Is economic disparity a probable cause or a justifiable reason? Actually speaking, wasn’t the bike rider, in the moment that the scuffle happened, a stronger party? If there was no danger from the bike that brushed past, would Dr. Narang, who was on foot, have felt threatened? How would you feel if a similar thing were to happen with you?

There is so much economic disparity in our society as we speak, can we all start committing crimes against those who are relatively well-off? Is that what the newspaper is trying to say?

It’s like Germany explaining the molestation and sexual harrassment of more than 100 women in Cologne on December 31st, by a huge crowd of men, a lot of whom were immigrants, on the basis of economic disparity. Then terror attacks are justified on the basis of economic disparity between the countries.

The fact is, factionism and political interests are eating our country hollow. These termites are within the country and there is no one else to blame. The Hindu majority, guided by the ethos of the Sanaatan Dharma, has not placed due importance on congregating. In this divided world, though, where right-wing parties are gaining ground in Europe, where hate-driven Trump is a serious presidential candidate in the US, congregation is becoming more and more clearly a priority. It’s not a fear-based calculation as much as a need-based one. This is the developing reality.

BUT, sane voices, progressive views, and effective communication can help make this better. Media can be a tool for this rather an a tool for further rot and division. However, the media in our country won’t do that. Because? Presstitutes. Thank you General V K Singh for giving us this word.

Full circle: Looks we’ll have to revisit civil disobedience

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‘I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilisation’ – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Yes, taxes are meant to make civilisation possible, affordable, and practicable. In India, though, they only end up being victims of corruption.

Only 3% of India’s population pays taxes. The minorities, the business class, the farmers, and politicians, absolutely do not. Many a flourishing CA can take the credit for facilitating this. But that would be doing them injustice. It’s actually the lawmakers who create policies that gratify, indiscriminately, businessmen, and rich farmers, by creating policies and laws that eliminate the need for them to pay taxes. Don’t even get me started on Vijay Mallya. Taxes are the burden of the salaried class, unfortunately.

Anyway. A ray of hope. However anecdotal this may seem, Premlata Bhansali has burst on the scene in Mumbai, time will tell if this was just a flash in the pan. Read here: http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/crime/Ticketless-traveller-tells-TC-Arrest-Mallya-first/articleshow/51504447.cms

But for the time being, she’s made a point. The woman in question was returning on train from Elphinestone to Bhuleshwar, and did not buy a Rs.10 ticket. She was stopped by a Ticket Checker, who imposed a fine of Rs.260 on her. And our lady, she did what? – Refused. Point blank. Saying what? First ask Vijay Mallya to pay back the Rs.9,000 crore. And what I truly admire is, she argued with the cops for 12 hours straight.

Apparently, even her husband’s counselling her was to no avail. She wanted them to arrest her so that she could go on a protest like Anna Hazare. She is a mother, and she lives in a well-to-do community and family. When taken to the magistrate, she still refused to pay the fine and chose to go to jail for seven days instead.

I feel sorry for Ms. Bhansali on one hand, since her civil disobedience, while truly full of spunk, will predictably go unnoticed. Ours is a society of ethical, environmental, moral, social, logical disobedience. Civil disobedience is far out. However, this woman taking such a strong step, all by herself, is nothing short of inspirational on some level. Yes she wilfully committed the ‘crime’ of not buying a ticket. She resisted paying the fine when caught.

This news is close on the heels of one on February 3 that spoke about a High Court judge Arun Chaudhuri saying citizens should stop paying taxes if government fails to curb corruption: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/Dont-pay-taxes-if-government-fails-to-curb-corruption-HC/articleshow/50826888.cms

To quote Justice Chaudhuri, who was giving verdict in a case of embezzlement of funds at banks, “Terming corruption as a “hydra-headed monster”, the judge said it is high time citizens came together to tell their governments that they have had enough. “The miasma (unholy atmosphere) of corruption can be beaten if all work together. If it continues, taxpayers’ should refuse to pay taxes through a non-cooperation movement,” said Chaudhari.

“The taxpayers are in deep anguish. Let the government as well as mandarins in corridors of power understand their excruciating pain and anguish. They have been suffering for over two decades in the state. There is an onerous responsibility on those who govern to prove to taxpayers that eradication of corruption would not turn out to be a forlorn hope for them,” stated Chaudhari.

His words not only on the point but also extremely auguish-ridden.

I wonder what inspired Premlata’s taking such a stance.

And finally, why I am talking about it. That’s because these mandarins in our political power circles have now decided to shave off the only large chunk of forest around this big melting pot that is Mumbai – the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. 22 acres of forest land that acts as the lungs of this crazy supermetropolis called Mumbai and quite simply, keeps it sane and functional. And the Mumbaikars’ silence has been priced at – A train station and some “DEVELOPMENT”. And guess who’s paying for it all? The taxpayer of course. And many times over too. Because our politicians forget that there’s an infrastructural cost and there’s environmental, social cost too. Because “Development” costs big. Unlike civilisation. Civilisation is a quality. Development is measured in things.

They won’t “DEVELOP” the existing tracks and trains or build flyover or install CCTVs or provide clean toilets and clean drinking water. They will cut off trees. Because that will not bring them moneybags.

Time to do something about all this crap.

 

Our heroes and heroines

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‘Human beings have neither kindness, nor faith, nor charity, beyond what serves to increase the pleasure of the moment.’ – Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)

A very bold, unconventional, beautiful, talented, and of course brainy career-minded girl meets a typical Indian man of pedigree and strong career distinguished by his six-pack, macho, handsome looks… ooh grey eyes. He’s married to a gorgeous woman from an equally powerful background, and has two young kids with her.

Hrithik, your world had to explode. Kangana, you should have known better. Sussanne, kudos to you!

You know why I loved having this conversation recently with friend of mine? – besides the fact that everyone is tired of discussing Kanhaiya Kumar and Anupam Kher. Because we both find ourselves on similarly feminist wavelengths.

Once in a while, you’ve gotta let your hair down. ‘Coz, look even Shobha De has put in her two-bit on this affair, saying Let’s hear it for Kangana. Interestingly, the affair itself didn’t make such waves as has its fallout.

I’ve still gotta hand it to Shobha De, who has rightly spotted the ‘heroism’ in Kangana, with the step she took after Hrithik sent her a legal notice. Kangana has put her career at stake. She’s an outsider. But more importantly, she’s outspoken. The domino effect on her career will be telling. And this is after she had supposedly hit her highest high with her performance in ‘Queen’. Kangana a risk-taker? Check! Oh yes. Track record? Check.

‘Coz… Hrithik. Check again.

Can you believe the girl who filled reams of newsprint with her interviews about how she couldn’t do conventional roles requiring her to run around trees was actually a real-life Cinderella, being chased by this married guy – however hot – who’s ‘no-no’ actually transformed into a ‘yes-yes’ in due course of time? It’s not like she was being offered an extra golgappa, was she?

Totally creepy, especially given the mud-slinging during Hrithik’s Barbara Mori affair while they were shooting for the film Kites.

I’d love to read out aloud the Virginia Woolf quote I’ve started my post with. Loudly. And slowly. Letting it sink in.

Moving on, Hrithik. Dude, you’ve come out looking like the typical Indian male – no hero goals from you! Just got no game. Indian men have never learnt to give, having learnt only to take. Adulation, praise, power, property, pleasure, happiness. They earn money and they brag. They ‘score’ and they brag. They cook once in a blue moon for their partner and they brag. They change a diaper and they brag. Bragging rights is all they’re after. This megalomania is culturally transmitted. But this is water under the bridge, sister!

I wanna say kudos to Sussanne. Got her own business going, got her own place, got two beautiful boys, her own friends, her life. Walked out in a glamorous haze, looking like a million bucks. Free. Any woman in her position ought to know that if it weren’t Kangana or Barbara Mori it would have been someone else. Isn’t it ironic then, that it’s ‘strong’, ‘feminist’ girls like Kangana who get caught in the net?

I see Sussanne as the real heroine in here. And I believe we’re banking on the wrong heroes and heroines. Sussanne, take a bow!

I remember a conversation – long, long back – with a sculptor with whom I’ve lost touch, on feminism. He was telling me the story of his old house-help who was still going on working, happily too, despite her advanced age. She hails from the Adivasi community back in North Gujarat, and years back, her husband had brought in another woman to live with him into the same house. She decided to look for work (or was she already working in homes, I don’t clearly remember now) and has since never stopped. When asked about what would have to be perceived as a humiliating situation back home, she replied matter-of-factly: I’m actually free now. With the second one coming in, I’m free of all expectations – of ‘satisfying him’, of bearing his children, of looking after the home; I can work, come and go as I please, make my own money. What more could I have asked for. Listening to her story became a defining moment in my life.

This woman doesn’t know the term ‘feminism’. But she knows freedom.

Random thought – seeking an upgrade

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You would think it would be interesting to have people upgrades. 

In the Indian context, our elders can adopt new technology – social media, whatsapp, and what not. Of course, there’s a bit of effort involved (like an iPhone user trying to handle android device for the first time).

What they find impossible to upgrade to is a newer (better, more progressive) version of thoughts and attitudes. 

Try to ‘friend’ me in real life rather than on FB! 

The Battle for Sanskrit

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I have sampled Latin literature and African literature as well as Middle Eastern literature, and have loved the journey. Have I done so with Indian literature? Not as much as I could have, or should have. It just didn’t fascinate me. Ever.

But that was probably because my only window to Indian literature were the snippets of chapters in our school books. And that wasn’t too rosy a picture anyway – content fed rigorously and dispassionately only for marks; with the attitude that English will make your future, Hindi and Gujarati are around until class 10 only.

And I thoroughly hated reading stuff like Tagore’s Homecoming – story of sad, sad, sick boy (hope I remember correctly), or a Hindi story titled ‘Dushta’ featuring a pitiable widow as the protagonist – oppressed, neglected, hated, ignored (not the kind of stuff that appeals to children now, is it?), or even the supposedly funny but positively ridiculous ‘Bansidhar’ or the Gujarati author ‘Kaka Kalelkar’s “Khoti be aani”‘. It all seemed pedestrian in comparison with such interesting stories as Maggie cuts her hair, the model millionaire, I met a pygmy, The Highwayman, and so on.

It was the allure of a beautiful world portrayed beautifully versus a world that was already looked down upon, sketched with even darker hues. Why they didn’t find the Spanish inquisition to talk about in a children’s curriculum to act as a counterpart to ‘Dushta’, one will never know. I hope things have improved now.

The only Indian story I remember in positive light was something that talked of teenage infatuation, by Popati Hiranandani (Sindhi woman author who has written 60 books! who knew? Google tells me). It was the rage because it was a subject oh so very relevant – we were in Class 10, sixteen and in love, everyday, with someone or the other. And so, when the protagonist describes the young lady love as Tillotama – I will remember that name till my dying day perhaps – in his intensely touching poem, our hearts were aflutter.

But that was it then. End of Indian literature. If we weren’t schlepping our way through it for marks, we weren’t doing it at all.

All the time deaf to constant urging from our parents to dig deep into our own culture. We disowned it because those who chose the curriculum chose blunt social reform over sensibilities and sensitivities. They probably thought that after all, ringa ringa roses is all about the plague but it’s still enjoyable.

Anyway. The thought has now come a full circle. This book, in the present climate, will make inroads in many a psyche. The time has come for Indian cultural dialogue to take the front seat, at least in India.

The mysticism is there but that distracts from the real goal. The real goal is to now find who we are from who we were. Before the capitalism, socialism, and communism, before the onslaught of imperialism, before the religious imperialism, before it all. Let’s catch it while we still can.

Rajiv Malhotra’s ‘Battle for Sanskrit’ seems well-poised to do this.

It opens with: Dedicated to our purva-paksha and uttara-paksha debating tradition. With gratitude to the purva-pakshins (opponents) I have learned from. May we engage in this intellectual yajna with mutual respect.

Debate not for the sake of intellectual showmanship. Debate for a common goal. Let us be better off after the debate than before.

Is this a turning point?

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The last few months have not been easy. No. Not at all.

For a middle class girl to a woman, I have grown in an extremely diverse, pluralistic, sometimes traditional but largely liberal society, especially at home.

When it was time to join in evening prayers or bhajans, I used to be thrilled to take the mickey out of the bhajan mandali participants of my granny’s group. It was quite the ‘in’ thing, at least for me, not to visit temples, completely deny all the little bits of religion fed us by our elders and relatives. Not because it was being forced upon us; no, not at all. After all, the prayer before leaving the class for lunch break was mandatory; Christmas celebrations were marked by a unique fervour, unmatched by that which marked Diwali in our largely ‘baniya’-led school in Ahmedabad – not one classmate of mine was Christian, I remember (we did have one Christian teacher though).

It was incredulous to find, one fine day, our elders using separate cups for the drivers and cleaners to serve tea. Once more the student in me, instructed by the ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ in our textbooks found an opportunity to exercise my learning, the question being, ‘if not now, when?’; ‘if not me, who?’

And it went well. The banishment of separate crockery. Then came puberty with its own problems – emotional, physical, but also social. ‘Don’t sit here; don’t go there; don’t do that; and absolutely don’t question’. That last one rankled. So I questioned. And then the rest of them unravelled.

Same with boyfriends. Then with not making the expected grades. Then with not studying science and instead taking up a ‘useless’ profession – writing. All the while not going to temples; not even saying ‘Jay Sri Krishna’ as we are wont to do at the beginning and at the end of our conversations (nowadays in the time of SMS, a JSK suffices); not reciting the mantras and the shlokas and the prayers; not doing havans; not reading the scriptures; opposing wholeheartedly as I do even now, the religiously guided (Hindu) invocation at the beginning of every formal function at any institution – the ‘ridiculous’ lamp lighting ceremony; not doing anything even remotely religious. And all the while, the former being called as having been caused by the latter.

All this because belonging to a Hindu majority was a pain. Caste discrimination, gender discrimination, vegetarianism (which has never wavered in my life). The sati system, the female foeticide and infanticide, the dowry system, untouchability – baggage of a murky past. So strong was the urge to move oneself away from the bad associations that it could only come at the cost of identifying with this culture.

However, I attended a midnight mass, celebrated Christmas with my friends, learnt to write my name in Urdu thanks to a Muslim driver in our family, made friends with other kids with all kinds of surnames, especially those that went against any hope of approval on any level. Deliberately, openly, and finally, lovingly. At that time, being a modern Hindu was to be openly and actively embracing all other religions and culture and their practices. At the cost of having a Hindu identity. And it was easy because among the intellectuals, a Hindu identity was a cheap thing to have. As truly modern Hindus, we HAD TO BE progressive – join the Christians in their ‘creation’ of a classless, casteless society; we know now how that goes in the world of pointed capitalism that might just be led by Donald Trump. Had to be, and so we were. Progressive.

Being progressive is something that we have always had to keep attempting at. Missionaries can continue making more and more missions; and Muslims can continue to send their kids to madrassas; and everyone can keep their personal laws. Hindus are happy to let everyone take a dig at themselves, take the jobs through reservations based on exactly what they hate – caste; there’s talk even of religion being included here, but so far it hasn’t happened; and make Hindus look like the most intolerant of the lot.

And if you went looking, you wouldn’t find a case of a Hindu Raja looting, invading, and plundering other faraway lands; you wouldn’t find Hindu proselytisers and mass conversions; you wouldn’t find even Hindu religious schools. You won’t find Hindus saying we are for our Hindu brothers, building fences, making wars. I know, what an intolerant lot! Even now, as I look around, the most militant intelligentsia calling their own brethren intolerant is largely Hindu. Because as Hindus, we rarely were brought up to think of Hindu brethren as the only relevant brethren. For us, Vaisudhaiva kutumbakam is a reality. I won’t translate this term because in the current atmosphere, it has become irrelevant.

We, who never went in search of our own identity – a religious identity, but were content with our cultural identity, find ourselves at a strange juncture. I am already probing my Hindu roots, looking for what makes me so tolerant to others’ insinuations and cheap jibes at my being intolerant. I know what it is. It’s my tolerance. We’re okay with cheap risque jokes about our Gods, we might not like it but we’re okay with letting people use the imagery of Hindu Gods and Goddesses to design their bikinis and flip-flops – we’d rather ignore it, we’re okay sharing our spaces and our history, of course our resources, and our society and the safety it ensures, with others as we have always done.

And what’s the hardest part here? To have to utter the word ‘we’. It means a boundary has already been formed. I was not like this before. But the disgusting circus around Rohith Vemula’s death, the utterly irresponsible way the political class as well as the media has acted around the JNU issue, and the absolutely shameful way people have banded together to develop this story of the intolerant India i.e. intolerant upper caste Hindu India, I can’t think of an alternative.

And I’m sure I am not alone.

 

Men and their Gods

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Men and their Gods are truly intolerant of women. Women are weak so they are despicable. They are despicable because their physical weakness makes them dependent on other men. Because they are dependent on other men, they are prone to blandishments – usually for sex, because traditionally, that’s all women have to offer. Actually, that’s all women can offer. Being prone to blandishments, they learn to use this ‘power’ by manipulating others. (Chimamanda Adichie refers to this as ‘bottom power’ in her language, which, she says is no power at all). This is also what makes us women morally weak. Women, thus, are characterless. They have no capability to own up their character. That’s why, it’s important to place us in the safe confines of a marriage and a home. This is the logic you start with, when you contemplate patriarchy.

Perhaps it all, thus, starts with being physically weaker. Perhaps that’s why most of the physically demanding work i.e. household chores right from the times when there were no washing machines, dishwashers, pumped water, etc. were a woman’s lot. When agricultural economy was the basis of economy in general, women cleaned, scrubbed, carried, tilled the soil, sowed seeds; and harvest was a woman’s job to. All this besides the usual grind – women served at home, cooked, had children and nurtured them, and the worst part: bore the brunt of a man’s sex life. All of this while working hard to generate endless gratitude for being allowed to do so. Women who had not this were fallen women. What are fallen women? – women who were exploited pretty much the same way those who were in the societal folds except they did not enjoy the same status. The status was important because instead of 50 men using you and throwing you away, only one could actually do so. It does seem like a better deal after all.

A woman who was used by 50 men became the receptacle of “dirt” but the one who was used by one man and only one (at least in the manner known) was not a receptacle of dirt. However, both are considered ‘dirty’, in a manner of speaking, when they are menstruating. Menstruation is dirty like nightfall or pre-cum or cum is not. Menstruation is the mark of impurity of us women like semen is the mark of the purity of men – not just purity, semen is what makes a man well, MAN. What makes a woman? I  don’t think anyone’s going to say menstrual blood. The studied answer is going to be – a baby. Look how smart the ploy is. A baby is something, no matter how weighty the hymns sung to the role of woman as ‘the creator’, that cannot only a woman make. To make a baby, she needs a man. Therefore, to be a woman, a woman needs a man. To be a man, a man needs nothing but his own sperm.

Within a marriage, this receptacle that a woman is, became a womb and the ‘dirt’ transformed into ‘seed’. Without the seed, it was dirt. Concluded without even asking where was the ‘dirt’ coming from, without even arguing that dirty was a place where the dirt was coming from, not where it was going; not at first anyway. But this you will never hear being said about men. Men are all alchemists – however dirty and impure be the receptacles of their seed, they retain their purity no matter what. A woman who has had sex with 50 men is a whore; heck. A woman who has had sex with anyone outside of certain social conditions is a whore. No wait. A woman is born a whore because remember?  – she is characterless?

On the other hand, a man who has had sex with 50 women is a stud. Because, women are not supposed to enjoy sex. That task belongs to a man. A man takes and a woman gives. Always. If it’s any other way, if the woman learns how to take, she KNOWS. And a woman who knows is a fallen woman.

What if a woman starts enjoying sex and starts deciding/dictating what she likes and who she wants to do it with. She no longer remains common goods but acquires an aura of power, exclusivity, ownership, and what happens when she exercises it! Relax. this is just hypothesis. She cannot really exercise any power. Don’t you remember why? Because she is physically weak. That she is and that’s why she deserves to be common goods. One who cannot protect herself has no choice but to become common goods. In fact, there isn’t much becoming there, is it? She’s common goods until in certain very specific conditions she is not. But she generally is. And that is the whole point.

It’s all perfectly rational as you have just seen. This is the hallmark of rational thinking followed by men through centuries, fruits of which we are seeing from day one in ceaseless misery and pathetic power structures built around patriarchy, in a declining sex ratio and a perfectly miserable modern world that wraps its women in miniskirts and burkhas, and uses motherfucker and sisterfucker as the ultimate insult. A world in which we look for “kumaris” to bless us through various rituals and poojas and deny access to entire places of worship to women because they menstruate.

Perhaps it’s lost on the world that we are women because we menstruate. A baby is a matter or chance. Men will have to accept us the way we are. Their Gods will have to love us the way we are. There is a turmoil in the sanctum sanctorum of the patriarchal belief system and just like everything has a shelf life, it’s time is up.

These ‘Gods’ have done such little for us women! I suggest we start asking them questions on purity and impurity. I suggest we women give them some critical thinking – open and read the newspaper: how many ‘impure’ women versus how many ‘impure’ men do we find?

Why did I have to write this post? Look at these articles here – Shani Shingnapur protests and here’s one Article from The Hindu detailing how the Supreme Court of India is asking for logical thinking as to non-entry of women into Sabarimala Temple. Of course, the logic given was that it’s a 500-year-old tradition. Mind you, these are the same men who  have adapted to cellphones and internet and social networking websites, the same men who have fully adapted to wearing Western style clothing and certainly the same men who will even bring back the custom of ‘Sati’ simply because it’s traditional.

 

Angry Indian Goddesses

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How would you perceive a bunch of drunk rowdy men entering a ladies’ toilet if they found theirs crowded, and shooing all the ladies out with complete arrogance (of course, they are inebriated)?

Now, reverse the whole incident gender-wise and try to find it funny. It didn’t work with me, actually. It put me off.

However, this is not so important or significant a part of India’s first all-female buddy movie but it certainly raises a question.

Of course, the movie has a dramatic start – women mercilessly crunching balls of eve-teasers with throaty laughter and mocking eyes indicates good chick lit in these times of continuously reducing conviction rate in rape cases in the country – with cuts taking us into the lives of various characters in the movie (there are 6-7 of them, sometimes you lose count, sometimes you ask – ‘wait who is she? the bride or the domestic help?’) and how they have been at the raw end of the stick of sexism. Great, that. All of us have. In fact, sexual misconduct, assault, and stereotyping are the most significant thread that runs common in the lives of us women, Indian women, regardless of whether we are powerful or destitute, married or otherwise, aam aurat or GODDESSES.

So there are these goddesses congregating in the scenic but rainy Goa to attend the wedding of one upon whose invitation they find themselves there. The mystery is that when they land up, they don’t know they have been invited to a wedding. And then, the bride takes her time telling them who she would be exchanging vows with.

The movie, as has been the trend lately, focuses on upper middle class women. The contrast is offered by Lakshmi, the domestic help, who is leading a troubled existence. But, as the women discover, none of them are having it easy themselves. None. Not even the little girl.

The movie shines a light on all the hallmarks of the ‘woman problem’ in a patriarchal world that is trying hard to pretend its way into making us believe of a genuine transformation being underway towards a more equal world. But, the fact is, it only takes one act of violence to make this a ’10 steps forward, 20  steps back’ game. Listing these issues here – see if you can identify with one, or at least a few, but I’m sure you’ll find many:

Men staring at your assets while you go about doing perfectly mundane activities such as running on a treadmill

BOLLYWOOD (and I needn’t say any more)

Men catcalling as you pass by

Men trying to grab at you

Men looking and staring if you are ‘exhibiting’ your ‘wares’ by wearing something other than what their moms wear

Men wanting you to cut to the quick to talk dirty

People expecting you to take care of work and home

Men second-guessing you just because you are well, not a man

People judging you on the basis of your clothes, your look; even better – your profession

People expecting you to own up to provoking men into teasing you, assaulting you either by calling their disdain for rules (traffic rules, any kinda rules really) or for their attempts at eve-teasing.

People expecting you to behave in a way that justifies the saying ‘grace under fire’, in a situation that doesn’t remotely resemble flying fighter jets in enemy territory

People emotionally blackmailing you to fall in line with traditions that work out perfectly for them but suck for you.

People who think their needs (urges) are more important than yours (the urge to stay away, maybe).

People who willfully abuse you just because you happen to live in their home with their family.

NEED I say more?

SO, anyway, the movie does a great job of describing these problems and the characterisation is quite beautiful. The arty community is over-represented in the mix, however. But Delhi-ite Pammi is a great counter to that and rooted in the real world.

Finally, there’s about to be a wedding and it turns into something else. I can’t talk about it without spoiling it for the reader. What I will say, though, is that this movie is one where we could start – as women – having a dialogue with one another.

BUT, it’s a pity that this dialogue of ours cannot pass the Bechdel test. It has to be about the men in our lives, but perhaps even more about the men around us, at any time, in any situation. Immense is the power they have to hurt us, ruin us, destroy us.

This power is not theirs. This power belongs to the system that breeds such men. The film amply shows that. And that’s my takeaway.

One of the dialogues that stayed with me – To be born a woman in India is to be a fighter!!! I love this view. Yes, fighters we all are. And we must keep fighting. We must help one another in our fights.

Certainly worth a watch.

 

Perverts brutally attack, sodomise 4-year-old in Delhi

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AT least two men carried out a sexually perverted and brutal attack on a 4-year-old, who is being treated in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. The attackers, in a sign of mental sickness and perversion, slashed her entire body with knives, tore her privates apart, sodomised her, and left her for the dead on Friday evening near her home on Lawrence Road in Keshav Puram, northwest Delhi.

The girl is battling for life, and will live with a stool bag for the next few months.

The Delhi Police have registered a case under relevant sections of IPC and POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Acts and a manhunt has been launched. The accused are yet to be identified.

“We have zeroed in on some suspects and we are keeping a watch. Once the girl recovers, we will be able to get more clues about the accused,” an officer said, requesting anonymity.

Recalling Friday’s horror, her father said, “My father had returned from work around 5pm and saw my daughter playing in the house. He had to meet someone in the locality for work-related enquiries when she went out with her friends. We don’t know when the girls reached the railway phatak (crossing). A group of men are always drinking and playing cards there. The other girls now tell us that two men offered her toffees and biscuits. One of them picked her up in his arms and left.”

Two hours later, when the family was already exhausted searching for her on every road in the area, a woman brought her back soaked in blood. She had apparently been taken to a jungle near the railway line, brutalised and dumped. The area is full of concrete materials dumped and locals use it for defecating. The woman was also out to relieve herself at the spot.

“She could not speak a word when she recovered. Doctors told us she was throttled. However, they have assured us that she will get back her voice,” the grandfather said.

Dr AK Rai, medical superintendent, Safdarjung Hospital, said the girl was brought to the hospital at around 8 pm after being referred from Bhagwan Mahavir Hospital.

“She was brought with cut marks all over her face and abdomen, her vagina and rectum both seriously injured. We had to perform a threehour colostomy to provide an alternate opening for her to pass stool. Her colon will take time to recover and come back to normal functioning. A surgery to close the colostomy will be required later,” said Dr Rai.

Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief Swati Maliwal visited Safdarjung Hospital on Saturday noon and spoke to the distraught parents. She tweeted: “Visited the little girl, her condition can’t be described. Horrific. Her parents are extremely poor. When will this heinous crime stop in Delhi [sic].”

She also wrote on Twitter later: “Every day we have a Nirbhaya in Delhi and the Nirbhaya Fund is lying unused. Pathetic. In 2014, only nine accused were convicted in Delhi in crime against women. Can you imagine! Tabhi to Delhi mei kisi ko darr nai hai (That’s why no one is scared in Delhi).”

“We had not anticipated this when we shifted to Delhi from Orai in Uttar Pradesh’s Jalaun district around a decade ago,” the girl’s grandfather told Mail Today. “We are poor. I work as a labourer. My son was a painter and daughter-in-law Seema is a household maid. When we found a shelter in the Lawrence Road jhuggis, I could see that the mahaul (environment) was not good, but there was no other option. Now we are paying for it.”

The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

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This thought came to me when I had just started reading today – that if reading is a skill, we might be getting better at it with practice. And when we’re younger, we often don’t know what to look for.
Just like the big data analytics which has hit big time in this “smart” century.
I know I’ve read amazing authors like Margaret Atwood, a little bit of Neruda, some Marquez, some heavy-duty history books and all, but probably didn’t know at the time “what to look for”.
It’s so subjective a thing and yet, well, there are learnings you carry for life. Like when I read Shantaram and I carried the memory of the standing babas for some reason while during my second reading much later, this Mumbai don’s version of the theory of karma is what I found overwhelmingly powerful.

With this thought, and with this realisation, reproducing an amazing exchange between “Rowe”, Graham Greene’s protagonist here with Mr. Rennit, a detective who is reluctant to accept Rowe as a prospective client, all the while suspicious and dismissive, in war-impacted Britain:

ministry of fear 1

‘Listen’, Rowe said, ‘be reasonable’. You know you can do with a client just as much as I can do with you. I can pay, pay well. Be sensible and unlock that cupboard (Rowe had unwittingly opened the door only to find the old man hurriedly tucking a bottle away into a cupboard) and let’s have a drink on it together. These raids are bad for the nerves. One has to have a little something…’
The stiffness drained slowly out of Mr. Rennit’s attitude as he looked cautiously back at Rowe. He stroked his bald head and said, ‘Perhaps you’re right. One gets rattled. I’ve never objected to stimulants as stimulants.

I read that, and I went tee hee hee…
Now, wouldn’t I want to use that someday! Especially since my spirit-filled past is fully behind me?

Praise for ‘Paid for’

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Sharing an interesting piece featured on The Marshall Project Link here

It talks about Rachel Moran’s book ‘Paid for’ in which she lays bare her past as a sex worker. In her interview she praises the Nordic Model “in which johns are aggressively targeted by law enforcement, but those who sell sex are decriminalized. In the United States, female sex workers are far more likely to be arrested than their male clients. Where largescale surveys of sex workers have been conducted (notably, not in the U.S.), the results show the majority oppose criminalizing clients.” What caught my eye, as regards this article, was the word ‘Nordic’. I’ve just got off the bus with admiring the Scandinavians, for the most part anyway, after reading Michael Booth’s the Almost Nearly Perfect People – an amazing read. But, we digress. I am looking at the society I live in and am dismayed at the similarity between us and the US in this regard, while of course, the situation here is far, far worse for everyone involved I guess.

The article goes on to say “Last month, Amnesty International announced its support of decriminalized, regulated prostitution, arguing that it would protect the safety of women and men who sell sex by enabling them to work cooperatively and turn to the authorities for help when they are sick or abused.”

Of course, it feels surreal to even talk about this subject in a country like India where marital rape is actually not a criminal offence. In fact, when recently some panel had recommended recognising it as one, some political brain actually went on to say that if this were done, most of the men would be behind bars. The best part: he’s actually right about it, ask anyone on the streets! If you talk about consent, they’ll want to know what you’ve been smoking. So, that’s where we stand. Also, prostitution, which used to be a heavy-duty bad word for use in public discourse has become quite ubiquitous through a slight misappropriation through the word “presstitutes”. It’s certainly losing its edge at making people feel not just a little a bit self-conscious. This is to say that a mature discourse about the issue is quite impossible in the country. And well, it is equally unlikely to come across blogs and social media where sex workers (current or ex-) talk about their work as a matter of choice. But google a certain kind of “jija” on Youtube, and you have a sure-shot, full-frontal, very very creepy, and a very ‘rapey’ hit(s!). The people involved in these cheap productions are certainly not interested in being low-key; nor are they ashamed – less about the work, lesser still about the quality, least of all about where they are being seen. So, in terms of accessibility, Digital India is very much making it work.

I mean, I have certainly heard of sex workers in Las Vegas and all who are trying to put themselves through the med school and the like through their time in flesh trade (a desi Izzie Stevens of Grey’s Anatomoy would certainly be too much to digest in India, however well the series did here). As against that, we in India do come across stories where children of sex workers are winning scholarships to study in the US. While those in the West do come across portrayals of the job as a “choice”, “an empowering thing to do”, and “at times enjoyable” as says the link here, saying this in India would probably split people right down the middle – those who simply refuse to believe it on the one side and those who say “I knew it had to be” on the other. The confusion would only be about where the actual ‘middle’ lies.

The hard reality that everyone must recognise, regardless of which side of the issue you are on, is sounded out by Rachel Moran, who says, “every prostitute I’ve ever known wanted to get out of prostitution”. That sounds, ummmmm… believable, if you think about it hard enough.

I was in the UK a couple of months back and we were only accessing the free channels since I wasn’t going to be a couch potato in London for heaven’s sakes. However, after 10:00 pm, the TV certainly changed its disposition. One such evening (late) I let it play on and it gave me a window into the world of one such worker – a young woman who “services” clients and might I remark upon the titillating manner of covering her life, while the narrative ended and rested on the darker aspects of having undergone an abortion and the inability of her parents to “accept” her and so on… So, while the camera angles did go politically incorrect, the language and the narrative was kept politically correct.

It is this, at least in my view, this duplicity of our so-called “high-minded” culture that Ms. Moran seems to address in her book, which also says that while there is limited demographic research on prostitutes, whatever there is, suggests that childhood poverty and trauma that Moran experienced are common among women and girls who do sex work, particularly those on the street.

After all, no girl grows up thinking this is what I’ll do when I grow up! Not recognising the inherently exploitative nature of this work is to not understand it at all. I love the way she talks about education as the one thing that would help fill up this void.

She calls out the most basic problem – that of a skewed understanding of the act itself. She says, “To go back to the basics, sex is not a service. You can’t reasonably pretend that it is. You need to pretend that it’s a service in order to normalize it. The bald reality is that putting your hands on a person who doesn’t want them there and putting your penis into the orifices of a person’s body when you know they don’t want your penis there is, in fact, pathological behavior. When men pay to do that, they’re not paying for a service, they’re paying to absolve themselves of the wrongfulness of what it is that they’re doing.”

Therein lies the criminality.

When will India wake up to its responsibility for a huge portion of its citizens who are leading a life that is disenfranchised, humiliating, and dangerous, and at times all at once, trying to survive a culture of entitlement that protects those that prey on others.

Marketplace gender bender

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It’s happening!
I was just out of college when I read ‘Banker to the poor’ by Muhammed Yunus, which in itself was something. I was least interested in economics then but it was probably the Nobel Prize winning status of a Bangladeshi guy that perhaps caught my fancy. Especially since I actually bought the book – from where I come, buying books is deemed a waste. A lending library is a more proper choice, if you absolutely MUST read at all. So, well, I had decided that I MUST read after all and that too Muhammed Yunus on microcredit. And so I did. Apart from being a well-written book the part I most admired was the concept of lending to women, and mostly, exclusively so. This was the Grameen model and still is, for a lion’s share of Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) even in India. In fact, in India, MFIs are doing really well in urban as well as rural areas.The common thread running between them? – lending to women self-help groups. And mostly, almost exclusively so.

That in itself is extremely interesting. It has become a sort of a principle for microfinance to lend to women. This is because while the costs of loan utilisation monitoring are high, women are observed to be more reliable in making repayments.
Talks with analysts reveal that while on the ground the man of the house may get to decide how and where to spend the money as well as spend it, he looks to the woman to help him get those funds. She then has a leverage on him at least as regards repayment. Which, is an empowering thing all by itself.

Now talk about a new item I came across this past Sunday in the Sunday TOI on Munnar’s tea workers link here shoving past men to agitate for increase in wages (in their case just Rs.6 more per kilo). The interesting thing is that apart from accepting CPM leader VS Achuthanandan’s support and allowing him to join their protest, they want no men around their agitation. It’s not that there aren’t trade unions (mostly men) ready to support them; it’s that they studiously reject any parleys and want nothing to do with men.
Reason? “They can be easily influenced by liquor,” says Gomathy, who spearheaded the campaign, dismissively (taken from the article above).

I was like, wow. Finally. A proper, rustic, feminist movement. Eschewing male leadership of organised predominantly male trade unions who usually overlook the demands of women seems to have made the politicos in the region sit up and take notice. Talks are about how women are growing impatient. Well, I say, about time, too!

More strength to these women – the sooner we figure out how lopsided our world is towards injustice and competition over compassion, the better it is for all of us. Within our homes and without.

This hardly makes sense!

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Been going through the papers… some stories stood out –

No viagra, porn – advisory on Haj Pilgrimage and the hue and cry about it – I say come on, good men! In our country even Godmen are trying hard to give these up i.e. a certain bapu lodged in a jail will tell (as will many others). Moving on…

Night internet back at IIT-B – I enjoyed reading this one. You see, IITans had been deprived of the internet during the Dracula hours for a decade before getting it back recently! The reason being to ward off demon-like activities such as “gaming and non-academic activities at night”. WHy? because it led to low attendance in morning lectures and falling grades. For one, I say, I look with trepidation at anything that looks like these 7 letters put in this particular sequence: L.E.C.T.U.R.E. I am no gaming buff and my season ended with Super Mario and Battle City but if I had to choose between the two, gaming wins, yes. But that was when I was not eligible to watch A-certificate movies. Now, it’s different. I am an adult. I can help the country decide who will rule it. I should be able to decided whether I want to indulge in academic or non-academic activities, night or day. Although, IIT-B apparently takes its alma mater role too seriously – Beta chintu, sweater pehno! I can tell you this IIT-B, you can’t stop somebody who wants to study. You can’t stop somebody who doesn’t. Ask a certain physically challenged lady who just topped the civil services examination. AM sure you don’t know her name.
Well, at least, the wifi-hotspot technology understood what IIT-B did not. Enjoy the non-academic activities, guys, as much as you do academic ones!

Kudos to Flavia Agnes for her part in the sensitisation programme held recently for police personnel in Mumbai. This follows that sticky incident where the khakis rounded up couples holed up in the city hotels – many of them adult teens – and humiliated them, fined them, and worst of all, called up their parents to tell them how badly their kids were behaving ! I’d hate the last part, particularly! Well, so the reputed and well-respected advocate apparently had this to say – when a husband beats his wife in public we think it is ‘personal’ but if he kisses his wife in public it is considered ashleel and as being against Indian culture. Well, fair point well made, however, two things I noticed – 1) the discourse is still hung on husband and wife – the picture frame of matrimony 2) perhaps the correlation with Indian culture is the most significant point here: wives need to be disciplined, so hit them and humiliate them. That’s normal. Kissing them? that’s shocking!!! why would you kiss your wife!!! Indian culture is still wondering.

That leads me – naturally – to Mulayam Singh Yadav. The stalwart protector of men who need no protection. He made a case for 3 non-rapists out of four alleged rapists in general, because, he explains with the razor-edge certainty of a scientist, that rape of one woman by four men was not practical. I don’t know if he knows about the Delhi Gang rape. I don’t know if he knows about Mukhtaran Mai. But, we know what he does know – which is that rape of a woman by four men is not practical. I want to know how he knows this.

This all hardly makes sense, of course!

Piya Behrupiya OR Shakespeare through nautanki

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Si-ja-rio! Si-ja-rio! Si-Ja-aaaaaaaaaaaaaa-rio!
I can still hear Olivia call out to her beloved Sijario (Cesario) in a Punjabi accent as thick as pakodewaali kadhi.
Her “hain” on seeing her steward – Malvolio – dressed in yellow stockings and orange vest (fishnets, if there was a worse thing possible on earth) in full Punjabi galore enough to give Kirron Kher a run for her money.
Malvolio, who has the yuppiest “yup, yup” for his Madame Olivia, mixing accents as freely as Olivia’s uncle Toby mixes his spirits to proudly proclaim – “jab tak iss shehar mein daaru hai aur meri body mein liver hai, tab tak main peeoonga”. A pretty attractive alternative to Shakespeare’s “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”
That, and a Bengali Andrew, who, in his true Bengali outpouring of rage, when chance presents itself in an opportunity to beat up the amour (Sijario) of the woman (Olivia) he has been pushed into desiring by the malevolent Malvolio (Olivia’s uncle and his host and drinking buddy), he launches into a war of words – a qawwali.
Feste is a fool but only just. Feste manages to shine the spotlight on what lies between the pair of Olivia’s ears, which is, not much. Despite being a simpleton.
Unlike the smart Sebastian. Who serves as the audience’s pointsman, a far substantial role here than in Shakespeare’s original work I daresay. And his helpful Antonio has been reduced to a mere mention.
Sebastian’s twin Viola…
(That they be identical twins is a necessity for this play to make even the littlest sense;
Separated in a shipwreck – of course!
Both thinking the other is dead,
Bollywood is absolved for its
Chaalbaaz and Seeta aur geeta and Ram aur Shyam and Angoor if even Shakespeare had nothing better),
… who is pretending to be a man Cesario, in the employ of and secretly in love with Duke Orsino, hired as he is to sing of the Duke’s love for Olivia, who falls for this messenger of his instead, swayed by his looks and his voice, when suddenly Sebastian crosses this lady’s path and the lady knows naught between the identical twins.
If you are still with me after all this mash, you can conveniently figure out the ending, not that you’d care by now. The knot unravels in the most “Bollywoodlike” fashion – Olivia gets her Sijario, The Duke who wanted Olivia is suddenly content with Viola, formerly Cesario to him, Toby marries Maria, and largely all remaining characters are suitably paired up.
Fair offering for a nautanki that is Piya Behrupiya, a play that I just had the good fortune to watch with my gal pals at Prithvi Theatre. The play, with colourful actors, absolutely no props, no change of costumes, and no sophistication whatsoever as one would expect from something inspired from The Bard’s work – none of which it seems to be wanting anyway.
It is nautanki but perhaps an apt way to reimagine a story so plotless, a fact that until now was so hard to acknowledge. Piya Behrupiya does more than that though – it takes small, bite-sized digs at the prevalent social norms, makes you laugh through its witticims and clever poetry, and entertains with a fantastically talented bunch of actor-singers.
Finally, let me tell you this – there’s nothing better than and absolutely everything can be made better by, an evening out in the company of one’s gal pals.

NR Narayana Murthy, the true Indian, and how this offends us all…

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If there’s one thing typically Indian, apart from the sideways-and-shake head wobble, which means just about everything ranging from ‘yes to no, to don’t know, okay!, don’t care, no idea, maybe, anything, to Oh! I’m so excited’, it is this tendency and the ability to run ourselves down to the ground. This self-loathing of sorts, I haven’t yet found in people from any country other than my fellow Indians.

Sure the, Brits are a self-deprecating lot, Greece are an embittered one now I guess, the French are confused but proud, while the Americans, well, they don’t care a damn… But, I believe only Indians are afflicted with this self-loathing that Mr. N R Narayana Murthy let shine through in his speech recently at IISc, Bangalore. Wait, scratch that, IISc Bengaluru! since we decided to cast our colonial past away in the hopes that it allow us to rediscover our Vedic mathematics, the pushpak vimaan, all the fantastical things the likes of VHPs and other would have us believe existed long before the process of patenting did – again a western thing.

Let’s have a gist of what Mr. Murthy, IISc Chairman Emeritus, said at the 2015 Convocation Lecture, which was titled: How can you, the graduates of IISc, contribute towards a better India and a better world?
Apparently, Mr. Murthy knows and means to tell us so.

Full text of Murthy’s speech (Scroll.in)

So he takes a leaf out of MIT’s book – Ideas and Inventions: 101 gifts from MIT to the world. Note the significance of 101 here. Not 98, not 103, not 10,000, and definitely not 37.5. So far as I know, only in India do we have this tradition of gifting in odd numbers – the shaadi ka teeka, or Muh-dikhayi or some such. This practice is so typically Indian that if you go outlooking for fancy gift envelope in any of our stationery stores, you won’t find anything that’s not embedded with a Re.1 coin, set in a printed filigree border, so as to spare the gift giver the inconvenience of scrounging for loose change. I think the world send a thank-you note to MIT or as we would in India, at least perform that exaggerated gesture that looks like the blesser is trying to catch hold of the blessee’s horns (imaginary ones, to be found on the head), and twist it until they break completely, a cracking on knuckles completes the act, perhaps to symbolise the breaking of these horns. It’s called balaaiya lena in Hindi, you know what I am talking about!

Well, coming back to MIT, I am glad the NRN wants to compare our IISc with this mighty turk of technology and invention. But, we are like this only. We compare. From husband’s salary to the hemlines of daughter’s frocks to the length of her locks to son’s report cards to wife’s figure to friend’s sari or girlfriend – as it may apply across genders – comparison is how we get by socially. If comparison doesn’t fit into the present scenario, we stretch the scenario to cover the past as well (the Vedic times, the times of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Manu, and all such).

So, I think NRN was indulging only that part of his Indian-ness. Think of him as that overbearing parent (If you’re Indian, surely you’ve had at least one of the sort) – not like a tiger mom, tiger mom bares her teeth – but more a deliberate and vicious version. Tiger mom growls and slashes her tail about to ensure are scared enough to become slackers of any sort. The Indian version has a slightly mad quality to it. Just a tinge of madness here and there – parents who hang their kids by the ceiling fan, teachers who strike kids on the knuckles or make them stand in the Indian sun for 7 hours for missing school for a day, elders who advise parents to take to the stick when things go out of hand, mothers who paint the bleakest of futures just so their kids do that 1 maths sum. Maths, science, and English… I can still hear my memory jingle.

So, NRN compared IISc Bangalore to MIT and India… well, he did say, “Yet, let us look at the problems that surround us here in India. We have the largest mass of illiterates in the world. We have the largest number of children with malnutrition. We have the poorest public health service in the world. We have the dirtiest rivers in the world. Our vehicles produce he highest carbon per vehicle in the world. We have the lowest per-capita usable water in the world. Our primary education is one of the lowest quality in the world. I can go on and on. The important thing is to recognise that this country has no shortage of problems to be solved urgently.”

Well, yes we do, all of that and more, in fact. A quick perusal of the Mumbai Mirror will tell you that. It’s telling that when the PM wants to make Digital India a reality, a lot of Mumbai Mirror readers write in to its Sexpert, Dr. Mahinder Watsa, asking about the risks of pregnancy from kissing. I mean, these people only need to google, or watch Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (which was released more than 15 years ago at least). But, they don’t do that. Instead, they choose to write to Dr. Watsa, waiting for the next day’s edition to come out while plucking the petals off a flower “I’m pregnant”, “I’m not” – tick tock tick tock!

So yes, Mr. NRN, you have hopes from these young students, but be careful what you hope for. It might just come true. He says he does not find any difference between students here and students in the western countries. Now, saar, you’re being funny. Ask a Grade II student in India to stand up and introduce self, ask the same of a student from the western world and there you will see it. We are a people who turn craven in spotlight, generally speaking. And that comes from our having poor fundamentals or fundas. Some are shy of attention, some are scared of speaking in public but very few of us are confident enough in any subject. We do things we do to clear exams, to shine better in comparison to others on a CGPA scale. To innovate would need a different skill set altogether. The Indian society unmakes many a Bill Gates by not letting them drop out of school, many a Steve Jobs by not letting them drop out of college, and many a nobel laureate by not ensuring they get to go to school and then on to college, and then on to university as they please.

People innovate when they are free and they have resources. When they don’t, they do something called Jugaad. Jugaad is a low-born cousin of innovation, but no less in merit, that focuses on making do with little to deliver much more. Surely, you must have heard of it? What is Infosys, after all? You call 24-hour workday an innovation? No sir, that’s jugaad. And it has created more problems than it has solved. why working more than 8 hrs a day can kill you But that’s hardly your lookout. You’re the boss of Infosys.

Which brings me to this – not a fat load of innovation has come out of Infosys either, or do you have 101 gifts from Infosys to the world in the pipeline, too? How about 11? We hope that the next time you take to a lectern, we hear from this list of yours.

Touchy, I’m not. We are what we are. A bunch of slatternly people who won’t let an ambulance have the right of way, but will worship even a crow in order to pass a test or to have a marriage match approved. We all are quite aware of our limitations. Your speech, while touched on a topic that is true, violated a few expectations that are humane – those of dignity. You are chairman of what the students call their alma mater. You should have been more discerning. This was their Convocation Day, not a day they decided to bunk your lecture for a cricket match. This tone of chiding was undeserved as it would ever be, and all in all, you sounded like a disgruntled parent who is doing everything to make the child finish an extra chapter in the silver hopes that you’ll one day be hailed as the one whose child came on top! You may have had a lot of gifts yourself but a gift for motivation is not one of them.

We don’t have an MIT, yet, and perhaps never will. But if we do, the kind of words you spoke will definitely not have helped the matters.

As for your original harangue on innovation, here’s something: Blowing Infosys’ trumpet

Novak and what am I doing talking about sports!!!

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No I did not watch the match. I never do. I don’t have a TV. But that’s for another blog.
I did catch that Post-Grand Slam dance with Serena and that’s what softened me all up.

He’s being hailed as the fittest player of one of the toughest games on the planet. It’s natural to feel curious about it since he’s also the one who has had the maximum number of breaks during a match, for health reasons.

Well, here’s the story: ESPN story on Novak’s diet, his alternative therapy, yoga & meditation, and a book of Toltec wisdom
and
The Independent on Novak’s diet

If you haven’t read it already.
I especially love the fact that it mentions him having read The Four Agreements – my personal favourite of all times.

I’m not a sports person one bit but I think I shall follow someone a little maybe 🙂 ‘coz I like being fit. Oh yes I do. And I could always do with some inspiration.

Could you JUST stop by a minute?

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JUST.
JUST a moment, please!
I just thought it would be nice to let you know…
I don’t think this sounds right – although I was just checking…
Could you just listen to me for a minute?
Or, I could just finish review tomorrow?
I am swamped but maybe I should just take this as priority…

Yes, I’ve used this word often at work. And yes, this is unlike many men I know.
A harmless looking four-letter word, that is entirely expendable (and it should be expended from use henceforth). This Business Insider article JUST opened my eyes 🙂

To all my working women readers and non-working women readers, don’t hesitate to do your duty and JUSTify it with such diffident politeness. Men expect work, favours, privileges. Women apologise for them. Well, mostly.

Take a look at this link – Business Insider article

Have a fun work day, JUST remember to be strong!

Lucknow Central! You’ll need good luck

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Lucknow Central? So here’s a line from the film: There’s no justice. It’s either good luck or bad luck. Good advice if you’re planning to go watch it.

Because, there’s going to be no justice done to your time, money, or hopes. If you’re lucky, your cable operator wallah will call up during the show to discuss your latest plan and I suggest you do so in detail; if not, you’ll end up watching until the part where Farhan decides NOT to scale the walls of Lucknow Central Jail so that he can *** wait for it *** realize his dreams of playing in the jail’s band, of which HE is the only member who is even slightly tolerable, musically speaking.

Besides, he’s a convict, jailed and all, and I’m sure by now the government has his #Aadhar number. It’s not like he has any real, valid, comfortable career choices, except that he knows that he’s Farhan Akhtar in real life playing Kishen here and therefore, need not take the burden of thinking ‘Log Kya Kahenge’. He need not reason that the cops and the system don’t give two flying fucks about his band and his dreams and be they realized or not, they’re going to try their utmost to see that he gets back into the jug.

But, instead of thinking all of the above through, the makers invested all that time and energy into making sure that every single convict looks well-groomed, so well-groomed in fact, that I was expecting them to break out with a Sunny Leone-style ‘Layla’ item song any time now. Strangely it never came. It certainly wouldn’t have felt out of place.

So, banished are the zebra stripe uniforms and so is all the fluff off ALL of the men’s bodies, really ALL, even those who are not Farhan Akhtar (Yeah I noticed it, and so what if I notice such things!!!, huh?) For a long time I wondered which salon & spa services should be considered a product placement here. I kept looking for a clue but later I figured there was no need to split hairs… they were all gone… already… anyway.

This brings me to another funny thing about the movie: product placements. Come on, at least be subtle, man. You’re in a jail, not a mall. Different spelling, see? This Diana Penty is guzzling water from a pink coloured bottle of bottled water, very surreptitiously as if she’s expecting to find a clue in it. Good old H2O is the only thing that appears to be in colour in that scene.

Then there’s a brand of condoms Kishen is carrying in a mug on what seems to be his orientation day at Lucknow Central jail. Enough said.

And then, there’s an ecommerce website where they’re ordering stuff from, sitting in Lucknow Central Jail. Musical instruments C.O.D. Little Kishen and Gayatri opening those branded boxes as if kids opening their gifts from Santa on a Christmas morning. All this happening inside of Lucknow Central. The Lucknow Central jail. The flipping Lucknow Central Jail. Who cares about Log Kya Kahenge?

You know but I’ll tell you what: there’s a certain charm about these movies set in places like Lucknow. A non-metro no-nonsense real flesh-and-blood non-Karan Johar kind of charm. You’ll find it in tiny details and the ambience – like the lota party in ‘Toilet’, the lovela sweets in ‘Bareilly ki Barfi’… and the accent, Oh, the accent. Like how Rajkumar Rao did it in Bareilly, or how Usha Buaji in Lipstick under my burkha. Alia Bhatt and Shahid Kapur in ‘Udta Punjab’. It shows a certain commitment to the role. You won’t see that here. Kishen doesn’t care. He’s here to realise his dreams. Not his job to convince you, me, that he’s from Uttar Pradesh.

In Lucknow Central I found only about three things that had something to do with UP: Raja Bhaiya, Ravi Kishen, and a shot of my favourite dish Baati-Chokha. There was the jail signboard, not to forget.

Now comes the best part: The HAM scenes.

It’s my favourite part of any movie. This one had some but certain opportunities were missed, however. When Kishen is put in jail, his father is nowhere around to provide some worthy hamming and moral support. None of that jeep pulling away… tch! From undertrial to convict in a few seconds, facing capital punishment, Kishen keeps his smile on, even tells Gayatri to keep smiling. From being beaten within an inch of his life to being confined to a dark dungeon, Nothing. Kishen’s “rockstar” dreams crushed. Nothing. Being starved in jail. Nothing. Threatened. Nothing. Opportunities missed all through.

Once in a while a real ham comes along: One of Kishen’s band mates gets out on parole, to meet with his ‘girlfriend’ with whom he had been chatting all along from inside the jail (Don’t ask how, since convicts are not supposed to have a cellphone. Corruption, that’s how). He finds out she’s “settled”, with a bun in the oven. The guy is mighty pissed. How dare this woman go ahead and get a life while he is here serving a life sentence, doing her a favour talking to her and thinking only of her!!! How dare she! Angered, he tells her to get out of his sight lest he should kill her. Score!

The final one comes along when Kishen and his rock band is this close to making their plan a success. But if I tell you what happens next, this sequel to Rock On (jailhouse rock version) will lose all its magic. So I won’t.

Enjoy the weekend. Remember: There’s no justice. Only good luck or bad luck.

 

The Computer was a Bullet Train Once

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In India, the last time an international deal drew more attention than any other diplomatic aspect of the visit of an international Head of State was in 2006. US Prez George W Bush signed the Indo-US nuclear deal with Dr. Manmohan Singh being our PM.

This time around, Japan’s Shinzo Abe’s visit has been somewhat overshadowed by the Rs.1lakh crore project which is the Bullet train. It will run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, cutting the travel time from 8 hours to 2 hours.

And, it has already run into opposition. Judas Priest Bullet Train, that Grammy nominated heavy metal number comes to mind:

Sunrise showing every flaw
Paying for the night before
Dark eyes, scanning every vein
Exploding – cannot stand the strain

With each new mile
They death defy me
Standing on trial
Scrutinize me

And questionize my

Strong denial

Bullet bullet train
Piercing through my brain

The Indian Bullet Train project has a strange bevy of people voicing their opposition: the educated lot, at times the highly educated lot that traditionally always seemed to want more education, more modernity, more technology. Less chaos, less noise, less tradition, less superstition… less of India, to be quite clear. So today if you’re asking what’s new in India? It’s this: 

The same lot that applauds, as it is supposed to, India’s might in the field of space engineering, launching of satellites, Mangalyaan, etc. are now asking if a country where a large population goes hungry to bed every night needs a bullet train.

Changing my course
Blurred and scorched
Breathing exhaust
As we distort

By gravity

Of such G-force

Bullet bullet train
Piercing through my brain

Breakdown close my eyes

Today, the so-called scientific, educated, progressive lot have taken over the jobs of the conservative, orthodox lot who they themselves used to frown upon for exactly this: In a country where people don’t have food, children don’t have schools, the sick don’t have hospitals, do we need a space program?

The question remains the same, the people that are asking it have changed. I have heard of a time when people asked why we needed computers in a country where people don’t have food, children don’t have schools, and the sick don’t have hospitals. Decades later now, political leaders are crediting their party with bringing in computer technology.

Computers came. What has stayed? People who are hungry, children who don’t have schools, the sick who don’t have hospitals. 

In fact, Uttar Pradesh children have been gifted laptops for free, in a state where 4-hour power cuts per day every day are absolutely routine (this observation predates Yogi government but I think it unlikely for the scene to have changed tremendously).

Voices talking many lies
Stained glass bursting in
Shattering my world again
Free fall but never can
Ever reach the ground again
Dark eyes scanning in
Feel my mind explode within

Before this, there was a time when people asked why we needed foreign car manufacturing technology, steel manufacturing technology, and so on. Perhaps, these people are the reason why India depends on others for every flipping thing under the sun: technology for agricultural growth, food storage, defense, computers, education, health, and much more. Because every time that somebody tried to do something in these areas that required any major investment, they brought forth the present: mouths to feed, bodies to clothe and house, sick to care for. Not realising that transforming technology was the one way to actually doing something about it.

Once upon a time, this attitude was seen in other parts of the world. Those people were branded Luddites (In England, where the Luddites originally came into being in the 1800s, they destroyed machinery, particularly cotton and woollen mills, that they saw as threatening their jobs). That happened in 1800s.

But these Luddites of the ‘New India’ are not those Luddites. These Luddites would love going to Japan and rave about its tech infrastructure. They would love to say ‘This kind of progress can NEVER happen in India’. Thing is, when someone tries to bring this technology into India, they’re the ones trying to make their own pronouncements come true. These are the people who think that Indian traditional thought is somehow “not worth it”, not worthy of all these technologies: digital, artificial intelligence, automation, 3D printing, the bullet train.

Also, when they rave about Japanese technology and infrastructure, they forget Japan’s demographic issues and social issues, and uncomfortable history: the society is deeply mired in patriarchy, an ageing population, historic burden of war and guilt of comfort women. There is always a context to any story. It’s not always as linear as the geniuses around us would like to be.

Wanting much more
I implore you
Near to death’s door
To ignore

The screams of all

Who fall before

Bullet bullet train
Piercing through my brain

But, the geniuses have pronounced their judgement and that’s it. The nuclear energy deal wasn’t much of a problem; in fact, the same Luddites went gaga over it, calling it a product of a strategic relationship with a superpower that India needed on her side.

One is prompted to ask, therefore, is this really about the project or the man who is rolling it out? Sadly, those taking the credit for bringing into the country the two main technologies that have transformed our lives: telephone and computers, also the space research, have decided to draw the line – THIS FAR AND NO FURTHER. The Bullet Train is taking it too far.

Internet: yes

Technology: yes

Space research: yes

Bullet Train: NO. Because people don’t have food, children don’t have schools, the sick don’t have hospitals, the society doesn’t have tolerance.

Bullet bullet train
Piercing through my brain

In effect, THEY want to be the ones to decide how much technology is enough. How much public good is good enough. The only thing that they fail to answer is how is it then, that people don’t have food, children don’t have schools, the sick don’t have hospitals? Even after 70 years?

Have you seen a more inefficient lot? 

Why should the people listen to such an incompetent, inefficient bunch?

You could either use the Bullet bullet train… to understand or we can all quietly chug along the merry old ‘chhuk chhuk chhuk’ and enjoy the ‘Chhaiya Chhaiya’ of these Luddites of the New India.

Unless they take matters in their hands and decide to feed, clothe, protect, educate, and employ the poor, build hospitals and schools that we need. Now that’s a fine thought! Bullet Train

She was Jyoti Singh Pandey, not nirbhaya

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Today, the Supreme Court of India upheld the death penalty awarded to all the four rapists – Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma, and Mukesh Singh, who, along with one Ram Singh who killed himself in the jail, and Mohammed Afroz, the juvenile who was the cruelest and most brutal… among the lot of six devilish men who raped and destroyed Jyoti Singh Pandey that horrible, fateful night in Delhi on December 16, 2012.

I am not concerning myself with all those who have erupted over how death penalty should be abolished in a country considering itself a civilised one. This is because I am yet to attain the large-heartedness required to view such a person from the lens of human rights. Anyway, Indian law allows death penalty only in the ‘rarest of the rare’ cases and this one has been deemed as such.

This is what the Supreme Court has said: (link: Nirbhaya case highlights – Indian Express)

“The casual manner with which she was treated and the devilish manner in which they played with her identity and dignity is humanly inconceivable. It sounds like a story from a different world where humanity has been treated with irreverence.”

My question is, isn’t every case of rape and sexual exploitation an instance of treatment of the other (women, children – girls AND boys) in a devilish manner in which the perpetrator plays with their identity and dignity, which is humanly inconceivable? Doesn’t every such instance sound like a story from a different world where humanity has been treated with irreverence?

The court also said while upholding the death sentence that the offence had created a tsunami of shock. 

I still think that the above statement reflects the imperfect way in which justice is perceived in our society. What if this tsunami had not come? Would the crime have become any less devilish? Would Jyoti have suffered any less than she did?

Which moves me to ask another question: HOW do we really perceive sexual crimes in our society? 

Is it the fact that so many people in the society got all shook up by this one crime that made all the difference in looking at how severe it really was – trying very hard to set aside knowledge that they inserted a rod into her body and pulled out her vital organs? So, is it the number of people that matters? What if Jyoti and her friend that night hadn’t been left for the dead on one of Delhi’s busy roads and had instead been found in some far-off town or village?

What happens to all such cases of extreme brutality but diminished proximity to the Capital? I should not need to utter the word ‘extreme’ to qualify brutality here. Sexual abuse is the very worst form of abuse and there can’t really be a continuum or a scale of suffering or humiliation one undergoes; there may be for the sake of technicalities, which may exist for the sake of a society that finds it hard to choose the appropriate response to such crimes but that’s exactly is the issue here! – we’re back to the drawing board.

Where does the mischief end and abuse begin – and abuse end and horror begin – and horror end and devilishness begin? So, think again, is it the numbers that matter? Is it about the large number of people feeling shocked, disgusted, angry and feeling fearful and unsafe? Why is it that this instance had people up in arms at protests across the country while hundreds of rapes occur everyday without this level of brutality but it is rape nonetheless – if you can imagine a non-brutal way that would be a travesty. Isn’t this a societal flaw? A loophole that makes such dangerous elements as these six men feel a lot safer than their victims?

Along with the judgement, apparently, the court also had a few words on the ‘situation’ regarding the society.

The judgement Link here itself gives the following statistics:

A percentage change of 110.5% in the cases of crime against women has been witnessed over the past decade (2005 to 2015), meaning thereby that crime against women has more than doubled in a decade.

An overall crime 318 rate under the head, ‘crime against women’ was reported as 53.9% in 2015, with Delhi UT at the top spot.

And the following commentary: 

Stringent legislation and punishments alone may not be sufficient for fighting increasing crimes against women. In our tradition bound society, certain attitudinal change and change in the mind-set is needed to respect women and to ensure gender justice. Right from childhood years’ children ought to be sensitized to respect women. A child should be taught to respect women in the society in the same way as he is taught to respect men. Gender equality should be made a part of the school curriculum. The school teachers and parents should be trained, not only to conduct regular personality building and skill enhancing exercise, but also to keep a watch on the actual behavioural pattern of the children so as to make them gender sensitized.

This is what I wonder about. Culturally, we take a very serious view of rape. But our view is extremely flawed. It is consistently victim-shaming. This view is reflected in the fact that for centuries we have chosen to hide our girls and curtail the freedoms of our women rather than let them live freely. We treat rape victims with ostracisation, humiliation, and a huge lack of empathy, individual, social, and sadly, institutional.

Our view needs to focus on the perpetrators. What makes these men want to do such things? What makes them think they can go ahead and do it? What makes them think they can get away with it? Wait. Scratch that last question – the answer to this is completely obvious. Our policing and judicial systems, and of course our political class, should be made to answer.

The problem lies with our men. Only with our men. It is not about the victim.

Who is Nirbhaya? Nirbhaya was a woman who was brutally gang-raped on December 16, 2012, who succumbed to her injuries 2 weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

And who is Jyoti Singh Pandey? Jyoti was a 23-year-old physiotherapy student and daughter of Asha Devi and Badrinath Singh, one of the three children in a family from Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. Her parents sold their ancestral land to make sure their daughter, along with their sons, had equal access to education. She always wanted to be a doctor and serve people. Yes, she died a victim of a brutal, cruel gang-rape. Let’s not hotfoot around her identity. Maybe we have this the wrong way up in our society.

This is what her father had said earlier: “We want the world to know her real name. My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”

Let’s face it. This is damaged men who know nothing but a perverted world view. For them, anyone who is less powerful than them is just a place, a theatre, a thing where their acts can be carried out. They and their less active variants – individuals or institutions that aid them to act around in our society pose an ever greater threat to our safety.

This is not about teaching men to “respect” women. This is about teaching men how to be human. Sadly, most of these aren’t.

And the quantum of punishment is another travesty – max 7 years life imprisonment. Which is rarely given. That’s why it falls upon us women to become ‘nirbhayas‘ and ‘daminis‘ and all. Because we simply do not have a choice. This shouldn’t be Jyoti’s fate after all she has been through. She should be Jyoti Singh Pandey.