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.

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.

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…

 

On International Women’s Day 2017

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Women's Day

Couldn’t help but share this lovely message that says all I need to on this day, which has sparked protests and tokenism and genuine appreciation alike…

It is a bit long, however, 

If we must celebrate a day for women,

let us celebrate freedom from stereotypes,

from expectations,

from idolisation,

from sacrifice…

 

STOP congratulating women

for being the secret behind a successful man… 

START saluting them for being successful. 

 

STOP saying

the mother is sacred for all the sacrifices she makes…

TRY to reduce those sacrifices!

 

STOP telling women they are

beautiful!

TRY telling them it’s not important to be beautiful!

 

STOP praising

her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister…

CELEBRATE her as an individual,

a person,

independent of relationships. 

 

STOP justifying

her necessity to multitask…

GIVE her a chance not to!

 

STOP these constructs which are

aimed at making her strive for an impossible balance…

LET her be inadequate…

and HAPPY!

 

STOP making her look at herself

through a conveniently male viewpoint.

LET her be imperfect, whimsical, irresponsible,

boorish, lazy, fierce,

opinionated, loud, flabby,

ungroomed, adventurous, unpredictable, unprepared, impractical… 

 

Happy International Women’s Day y’all! 

Not. 

 

Finally, thank you, M! thanks for sharing this.

Your friendship is etched into my heart. 

 

 

Har Har Mahadev!

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I write this on the night of Mahashivaratri. The night of Shiva.

In India, a Western-educated understanding of Shiva as a ‘deity’, a ‘God’, a ‘Divinity’ is common. He is Lord Shiva, I remember my class teacher at school telling us. Like Lord Ram, Lord Krishna, Lord Vishnu, and so on. Address them as Lord. Treat them with respect – this is where the love for labels and titles began.

This behaviour was different from that of my elders. Generally speaking and during storytelling, it was Ram, Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu… but when talking about their accomplishments, their special attributes, they used the word “bhagwan”. When praying to them, they called them ‘bhagwan’, and it does not mean ‘divine’, it means one who is fortunate or blessed, one who has risen above the ordinary. It is an indicative word.

And I would feel a special awe for my teachers, who taught us to respect Shiva and the rest as ‘Lords’. Like that was the right thing to do.

Like saying Lord this and Lady that. It felt so cultured, so civilised, and so CORRECT, then. So, I believe all of us who have been through a somewhat elite education system in India, particularly the English Medium, have drunk some amount of this kool-aid. It lets us think we are somehow superior to those ‘others’ calling Ram, well just Shri Ram. Or Krishna, just Krishna. Or Shiva, Shiva.

‘Bhagwan’ was good but it was still Bhagwan, some word in the regional language while Lord was to revere our Gods as ‘Gods’. No lesser than their Gods – the almighty, the merciful, the ever-loving ever-forgiving punisher of sins, giver of life. That God who had a rival in Satan or Shaitaan for our attention. That God who had magical powers to wipe out sins, just not enough to wipe out Satan. The God who was eager to forgive all your sins just as much as he wanted to always watch over you while you went about committing them. The act was yours, motive His, guilt all yours, money His, Glory His.

In front of them, Shiva, this crazy ash-covered dude with braided long hair, smoking a chillum (cannabis, yes), bluish body throat downwards, dressed in a leather skin as loincloth, holding a damru, snakes draped around his torso just hanging about, the river Ganges flowing out of his hair bun and the moon perched atop that felt comical, wild, crazy to say the least. It was so ‘unGodly’ to make him come across as the problem child among all these more civilised Gods – some of which you can visualise, others you are not allowed to. It’s like your hippie mom gatecrashing a kitty party at your best friend’s place where her mum is handing out finger food and cocktails in summer dresses.

Look how much respect they gave their Gods. And look at us! We made them look crazy: Ganesh had an elephant head, Vishnu had so many arms, always relaxing in a river/sea of milk under the head of a cobra, Goddess Lakshmi floated around in a lotus, Brahma had three heads if multiple arms wasn’t enough; Ram was the most human-like but his rival, that evil Raavan had ten heads, was granted a boon by the crazy Shiva, and was basically revered for his knowledge; Krishna was beautiful and full of grace and human-like but he too had a viraat (large) swaroop (appearance) that a true devotee could see.

Somehow all this imagination was seen as tacky and way too much but this imagination wasn’t – that God is like this guy who lives in the clouds and sends us people from time to time to talk to us, live amongst us – his deputies. He’s busy following each and everyone of us down to the last thought & deed but has no time to personally descend and talk to us, man to man. That this God turns water into wine and allowed one of his own to defy laws of physics, allowed him to walk on water, defy laws of biology and allowed a virgin birth. That Garden of Eden and that Noah’s ark. Somehow, that was all okay. This happened and that didn’t.

It didn’t occur to me then. This took some time coming. But when it finally did, it came down to making a choice.

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I was going to go for batshit crazy. Because Hindu culture’s batshit crazy is pointedly ascribed with meanings, historical context, and humanitarian associations. It’s a culture, and not an -ism. Come Ganesh Chaturthi (Ganesh’s birthday) and one can see innumerable moortis of Ganesh playing the harmonium, dancing, even cooking – for those who want to be politically correct, reading a book, writing at his desk, and so on. Ganesh is seen as the ‘God’ of joy, the ‘Lord’ of auspicious beginnings. What’s wrong with celebrating ‘joy’? If Ganesha can be happy doing all these things – cooking, playing harmoniun, reading, and writing, so should we, right?

It’s a culture that lets you be.

Also, a word on the ‘moortis‘ (images – 2D as well as 3D). It’s different from an idol or statue – the same Virgin Mother all over the world. In the Indian languages, moorat/moorti is used to mean an image or form or embodiment of a person, concept, or idea. A mother (any mother, any woman who has attained motherhood) is seen as a moorat of unconditional love. The result may be the same – a statue, but the underlying context is different.

Since the concept of moorti was so flexible, there was full chance that the image in your mind could be different from that in mine. Perhaps this is the reason why our Bhagwans have many hands and many heads. Perhaps that’s why our ‘Goddess’ Durga is invoked at all sorts of tableux during the Pujo in the state of Bengal, used to make cultural and political statements – She could be celebrating the Pujo in her ‘divine’ avatar or slaying rapists in the form of the demon Mahishasur. Imagination at its best. You see? Batshit crazy. You’ll see the good old Buddha lean and meditating, or fat, laughing, and celebrating. Beat that.

Ever seen occidental Gods play football? Here’s our Ganesh with both his teams of more Ganeshas. And look who’s the referee – Shiva, Ganesh’s father. It’s a helluva existential match.

ganeshafootball

Thanks to this batshit crazy imagination, some guys down here imagined the concept of ‘zero’. And no Intellectual property rights, too. Imagination in the right direction. They also figured out that the Earth was spherical, and the distance between the Earth and Sun, Earth and the Moon, without any tools or major labs or even a strip of paper – just mental maths. Also very many philosophical, political, cultural, and religious concepts.

It’s thanks to this zero that I am writing here, self-publishing a post that can be seen across the world through the internet. Zero. Yoga. Ayurveda. Imagine the money the Indian Sub-continent would have made had all this been patented. Especially in the world of internet and space programmes. In the world of couples yoga and dog yoga. In the world of Golden turmeric latte and texamati rice.

So, what better than to say Har Har Mahadev to this imaginative realm called the Hindu culture?

Look at these beautiful posters… and tell me this isn’t imagination flying. And why not?

We are celebrating Nataraja (lord of dance), the Adiyogi (the first Yogi, smoking a chillum), and the Shiva (In whom all things lie, pervasiveness, also liberation, moving from darkness of ignorance to light) today.  Such was the power he had attained over his body that poison failed to kill him, and the mind was untouched by the harmful effects of cannabis. He was generous, gracious, and had attained extreme perfection in the two things he is known for – Yoga, and Dance. His third eye indicates his heightened sense of intuition, which is known as the highest kind of intelligence.

If a man achieved this today, we’d call him God of yoga and dance, just like Sachin Tendulkar’s fans call him God of cricket. But because this happened aeons ago, it appears batshit crazy now. Except that this batshit crazy truly works – Indian classical dance is an amazing tool for story telling and expression of beauty. The yoga is helping more number of people in the West than ever to attain health, well-being, and money, even when practised and taught in an imperfect manner.

Is he divine? Yes. Through his contribution to the human race. Is he batshit crazy? Of course he is. You’d have to be, right?, doing what he did?

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?