Deep in thought 

Deep in thought 

Because 

I can’t be deep in action 

I was bred too highly

To get my hands dirty 

So I relegate this task 

To people who have no other jobs and then 

I act like I’m doing them a favour 

By paying their wages 

And treating them slightly better than 

Animals

I criticise their food choices

And the way they eat it

Calling their lifestyle violent 

While ignoring the silent violence 

I inflict on them daily

I am India’s upper caste, intellectual elite.

My head is in the clouds

 And I don’t know one grassroots from another 

All of it is just, 

Foliage to me.

Coming in the way of ‘development’. 

The Therepuetic World of Harry Potter I entered at age 13.

It’s 20 years since the first book and nostalgia is all over the internet. The geeky kids of then are reminiscent adults of today. Till about 12 or 13, I was hardly a reader, forget an avid one. I tried cultivating the habit because they said at school that it was a “smart people thing”. Because of being an introvert and some other personality traits and often terms like “slow” and “God forgot to give you brains” used by loved ones, I thought of myself as lacking in intellect. And I tried really hard to prove that otherwise.

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My elder brother was the reader of the house and he introduced me to the Harry Potter books. He bought them second hand and got them bound and the colours were really dull – a dirty blue with dull red borders. I was quite honestly put off. The first day I opened the book, I was stuck at the “Boy who lived” – the first page for three hours. At some point, I dozed off and then decided – books, or at least this one, wasn’t for me.

Days passed. I was cleaning the house and I came across the book again. And this time, it was a deep dive. I went from the Dursleys, to Hogwarts, to two-faced Quirrell in a matter of days. And that was really fast by my standards. And then I was done with all six books in the next few months (despite exams). I was then eagerly awaiting the seventh one like the rest of the fans.

The book was therapeutic because it helped me believe that you don’t need to grow up in privilege to turn out good. That you could be bright and be a girl. That you could be awesome at sports and not be a douche. That friendship matters and stands the test of time. That “bad people” aren’t always bad but just misguide their energies because of some bad treatment they received before. That love makes us do great things. That old people don’t have to be boring or uncool. Just at the age when I would have formed perceptions and stereotypes, the books helped me challenge them.

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But more than just this, Harry Potter introduced me to the world of reading. At a time when patriarchy overpowered me and limited my access outside home, books were a good world to lose myself into.  It was safe and it was dreamy. Books were my gateway to many important, impressive people, specifically, women and feminism and social justice and a bunch of important ideologies that define me today.

I think sometimes, where would I be without the second chance that I gave to the Dursleys.

Changing your family is the most necessary and the most difficult life task

It was the year 2008, and I had just finished my 10th std. To my shock, my father did not want me to study further. I knew my family was conservative, but not this much. He said that I could only study if I wore the burkha. At that point, I was not entirely convinced of the burkha. My mom wore it, but out of choice. I knew women who wore and did not, and I do not think the cloth per se made them more or less pious. We somehow got him to agree that I would do it post my 12th.

Two years later, I was still not convinced. I researched a lot, and the evidence was sketchy at best, about it’s requirements. Besides, the burkha as it is came because of Khomeini’s campaign in Iran during the 70s. Back then, I was still unsure of my arguing powers so we settled on the midway of a headscarf. I stopped wearing it after a while. I didn’t think it was necessary to wear a piece of cloth to prove my worth to anyone.

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Now, my stance on that was very clear. I guess somewhere my father had realised that. I would be ready with all Quranic evidence and hadith always. Another fact was that I would bring up what men were “supposed” to do as well, according to Islam. That would shut them up.

But what mattered along with that was that my academic record was impeccable, I would go out of my way to help out at home and get a lot of tasks done. And yes, there were never any late nights and for the longest time, most of my family did not think I have male friends. In an ideal world, I should not have to be a typical “good girl” to get basic rights like education and freedom. But this is not an ideal world.

While I was working up to my education, I agreed to certain things and challenged certain things. My dad said I could do my masters only if I agreed to seeing potential grooms after the first year. I agreed. But I’m still not married at 24. Most of these things don’t even happen. It was just a way for him to show him who is in control. While I agreed here, I started challenging that women should eat yesterday’s rotis if they were left. I said, divide the leftovers equally. I helped mom to start questioning things. I helped her stop being a slave for my brothers and bring them down from the pedestal.

The point is, change is slow. And, change is difficult when you have to change the people you love. Because repulsion for their beliefs and love for them as people – both have to exist together and that makes it hard for you.

But it’s possible. Its all about the negotiation. Agree to certain things, and push them for other things. Shifts in reality are always slow.

Recently, a cousin of mine was almost forced into an engagement. She wanted to talk to the guy a little more before deciding, but her parents did not let her, because their society did not allow that. They valued society’s opinion more over their daughter’s happiness.

When my dad came to know this, he said “How can they do something which will surely make their child unhappy?”

Would my dad of 2008 have said this? If this is not change, what is?

How good a defense is “this is our (or against our) culture?

Because I feel so illiterate about a lot of history and modern politics, I decided to take this free online course that would help we re-caputure on modern history. Modern world being the period from 1600s-1700s till today. A bunch of stuff happened here that was distinct from the traditional world, but that’s beside the point.

What struck me is that a lot of what we call culture and which we use as a defense during victim blaming or abusive bull fighing, is really, such a shifting concept. I mean, think of the fact that modern armies were first developed by Eurpoeans and then caught on by the rest of the world. Writing language was invented in Mesopotemia and the Printing press in the Roman Empire. Now imagine, if the rest of the world shot up their hands saying, “No, the printing press was invented in the Roman Empire, it’s not our culture” – where would we be today in terms of dissemination of knowledge?

The fact is that culture and ways of life come not only from your geographic location, but ever since we entered the modern world, culture also comes from an exchange of ideas. And we are very happy when culture infiltrates. I mean, aren’t our weddings all the more colourful thanks to the addition of cocktails and bachelor parties?

We see other people with different ideas, different ways of life and then we take some aspects on. Because that’s the point – to make life better. So, this  “culture” which we seem to be gaurding, which seems to be the reason why we are so resistant to change – this concept of culture has itself never been the same. Culture has always been evolving and because it is evolving, we got so far.

Now, a bunch of xenophobic people are inducing mass hysteria and paranoia in others, with notions like “they will take your jobs” or “this is against our values” – you know why? Because their power is rooted in the old ways of life. For example, if we really did see the light of the day and do something about all the animal abuse happening at bull fighting sports, obviously, all the people who arrange for the sport will get affected. Of course they don’t want to let it go!

Culture? The real reason for staying back, is commerce. The commercial interests of a few people.

Can you be compassionate towards animals even if you eat non-veg food?

As I collect my mail, I see that PETA has sent something. I look at the cover. It is rabbit, but something is wrong with its eyes. The cover boldly screams that rabbits are being used to test cosmetic products in labs. PETA needs my help in pushing the Indian judicial system to ban these drug tests. I have an automatic monthly donation to PETA anyway, but I vow to myself that I will either try to donate some more, or send a letter to the concerned department creating pressure for a faster and positive judgement on this.

This question plagues me many times: If I feel so compassionate towards animals, how do I manage to eat non-veg every now and then? Compared to the tastes and appetites of my family, I probably have the diet of a goat, but I do still eat non-veg every now and then.

I once read this very interesting article on Scroll about how, there’s no getting away from the violence that comes with survival. And that being “brahmin” is merely about putting the violent and dirty work on to the outer circles of the groups, i.e., the untouchables.

Some other news also comes to my mind about how plants have feelings too and can probably feel hurt as we pluck them.

But at the same time, I am not okay with the cruelty of the meat industry, the weird festivals and practices we have with animals – circuses are a big example, and of course, lab testing of animals.

Till I find my answers, I feel this much for sure: That eating animals may still be exempted since our diets cultuarally formed when our ancestors ate what was available years ago. Because even plants being plucked for eating get hurt.

But the rest of the stuff: Animal abuse in various forms, is just like deforestation – not necessary, as long as we can be bothered to find other ways. So yes, I do find myself to be compassionate towards animals, and plants.

Till we find a way to gain nutrition without eating plants or animals, we can still care for them. We can be compasstionate when breeding them, and be least harmful in other ways – giving up animal, products, animal testing, not taking up their habitat, not hunting and not trying to tame them. Because of the way the food chain functions currently, we do end up eating some animals – but do we have to trample them and treat them as lesser being justs because of this? I don’t think so.

How your Islamophobia is helping  Islamic Radicalism. 

There are many people who will tell you that Islam is a peaceful religion. There will be some who say that it does allow some violence, in some contexts, but not terrorism. But here’s the catch: by being islamophobic, you are adding fuel to the fire and leading to more Radicalism. 

There are many ways that people will deal with attacks on the religion they belong to. One may be a practicing or a cultural Muslim, but when the conversation turns to terrorism and Islamic State, even the least practicing of us feel the need to defend ourself. 

The reason is simple. It is a part of our identity. Just like we would defend India in front of an attack from a foreigner,  despite not liking how we do things internally (Salman Khan, Dadri),  similarly, we feel the need to make people see that there’s more than one version of the story. 

However, there are people who are  unclear about religion and morality. These may also be people who are experiencing a void in life and who need something strong to make life meaningful. Given their current spiritual state, your hatred will only push them towards radical teachings. 

Why? It’s the logic of ‘let me commit the crime I’m already being punished for’. Since these young people are already facing discrimination, coupled with the wrong leaders and unclear principles and an empty life, they fall into the dangerous mix of radicalization. 

If you would like to help this global problem, stop treating each Muslim you meet as a stereotypical presentation.  There are varieties within. Even those on the precarious borders of violence, may yet be convinced with acceptance.

 It is up to you, whether you choose to scorn at the headscarf or try to know deeply the mind within. 

Love from the road #3

Tea In The Rains

Today it will be a month since I left. I don’t know when you will get this because I’m in a very remote coastal town. I actually have to travel quite a lot just to post this! 

Not that I mind. It’s green and beautiful! It rained here. I wonder if it’s rained there? I think not. It’s only when the winds move from here that they’ll flourish there. 

I suppose, everything has its place and time. 

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It reminded me of one of those first dates. That auto with old hindi songs playing, the pitter patter of rain drops, and you. 

You were gently humming to the song, and in that moment, things were so complete. 

I never underappreciated your presence in my life. But I feel I could have been more expressive of my gratefulness. I’m going to actively do that when I’m back. 

The steam rises from my tea. I stopped on a roadside stall to have it. Some rain drops too are mixed with it. We will never be able to tell them apart. And I guess, we don’t need to. 

I’m much more content now. I think the decision to not take my phone along was a good one. But I miss the sound of your voice. Maybe I will have an inkling of that through your reply. I miss you.