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.

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…

 

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.

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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?

‘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.

 

 

Uber, a symbol of class conversion

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.