Shame and honour

To have depression,

What a shame!

To kill in the name of caste,

What an honour!

To be poor,

What a shame!

To be in debt paying dowry,

What an honour!

To spend on her education,

What a shame!

A wedding worth lakhs,

What an honour!

To help your wife out,

What a shame!

To ‘discipline’ her,

What an honour!

Middle Eastern woman wearing face covering

To marry in a different religion,

What a shame!

To plunder another religion,

What an honour!

To be childless,

What a shame,

Child marriage,

What an honour!

To donate organs,

disected!

What a shame!

To go up whole,

useless,

What an honour!

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An Open Letter to Chetan bhagat.. well, almost.

I have been reading some faintly amusing columns that Mr. Bhagat writes either for TOI or on his website. Usually, I would just smile and let it pass, but I have just realized one thing: People take this man seriously. Now, I have read some his books, and I admire the topics he chooses but not the way he writes them. It’s not a journal entry or a friggin’ 8th std essay, that you would blabber anything that came to your head. It’s a novel for God’s sake. But it’s okay if he can’t observe the aesthetics of it – these are novels. But the problem is that the same approach continues when he writes columns. And sadly, as he is the ‘youth’ writer, people do believe him.

Which is why he needs to change his approach.

I will illustrate on the two articles where he goes around adivising women. One on women’s day, and the other on how to reduce their stress levels. Links –

http://www.chetanbhagat.com/blog/2013/03/12/five-things-women-need-to-change-about-themselves/

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Dont-worry-Be-happy/articleshow/9237496.cms?referral=PM

Now, on the face of it, it looks like he is trying to be nice and empowering. But one always needs to look beyond that. For example,

“At a broader level, this isn’t just about our women. We Indians have a habit of exploiting anyone without power”

So, women are without power unless they are the saas or the politican?

“However, the stubborn, fragile and pampered Indian male ego is a tough nut to crack” – and he uses this to justify why women should do MORE than what they are already doing, in order to be less stressed! Hello!?

And as King of Contradictions, he criticizes the movie cocktail for showing that ‘modern women find salvation in making phulkas’ and in the women’s day blog, he says ‘it’s okay if you can’t make 4 dishes for lunch, make 1″. Bottomline – still cook, woman. Can’t keep your man hungry can you?

Cleverly illustrated by this pic –

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(go on this tumblr for more of his contradictions hilariously illustrated – http://chetanbhagatforbooker.tumblr.com/ )

He has this idea in his blogs where he tries to pacify the men, by saying

” I’m biased, but Indian women are the most beautiful in the world. As mothers, sisters, daughters, colleagues, wives and girlfriends – we love them. Can you imagine life without the ladies?

It would be a universe full of messy, aggressive and egomaniacal males running the world, trying to outdo each other for no particular reason. There would be body odour,socks on the floor and nothing in the fridge to eat. The entertainment industry would die. Who wants to watch movies without actresses? ”

So, the men should help in ‘saving’ the women, because they are good-looking, entertaining and help to maintain you? Really?

If one wants to empower women, he does not look for the benefits others can seek in it. That is just business, not empowerment.

I faintly remember another column of his about going to Ra.one, and the same blog told about how he is such a maid-saviour. About how one maid ran away and he still educated her replacement. Before he goes around being so pompous, he should look at the work organizations are doing – on a much larger scale. Often the rate of return on this work is very less – people in these organizations may feel that their work is bearing no fruit. But they continue to work, and don’t boast.

Anyway, that’s all trivialities, you would say. But then he says, women, since politicians don’t care about you, don’t vote. Instead, assert yourself, and change one man at a time. (http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/The-underage-optimist/the-new-vote-bank-for-politicians-aam-aurat/)

This particular line caused an outcry in some circles – “Turns out that when it comes to vote bank politics, women are the new Muslims”.

ARRE!

So cook (even if only one dish), clean, do not get stressed (because then he starts to write how bad the stress is and asks you to change and not the men as they have ‘fragile egos’), go to work, discuss work with hubby, be awesome mom, manage the maids, and now even go on some holy mission to change men!?

There is a very good reply to this written by Lakshmi Chaudhry – http://www.firstpost.com/politics/lets-get-political-why-the-aam-aurat-should-ignore-chetan-bhagat-1382287.html

To quote her, “I’m all for Bhagat telling women to “assert yourself” — but not when it is accompanied by a discouraging message that they need to cede politics entirely to men.  At least one important part of asserting yourself ought to include asserting your most basic right as a citizen on election day”.

To drive home her point, if we don’t vote it’s all the more likely to get a misogynist government. And if the govt fails, how can you tell women to reform one man at a time? theka le rakha hai sab ka? We are stressed enough as it is, Mr. Bhagat, as you have been kind enough to observe.

 

I do not have a problem that he thinks this way. I know many who do – many in the family in fact. You might tell them that if they are trying to empower women, why does it sound like they are doing a favour? And often, a favour to themselves as much as to women – becuase after all, what is bollywood without them actresses – but it does not sink in. (On that note, he called bollywood – ” our most modern and forward cinema”. Please, one look at the big movies and the stereotypes in them and we know that bollywood is neither forward nor modern. But then, he would have seen that was he not busy ‘enjoying’ Ra.one and Cocktail.)

I have a problem because people listen to him. I believe that when people in large numbers care about what you say, it is only right that you yourself care about what you say.

So my advice to him –

1) Please tell Indian men to change and not just women – and yes, despite their fragile egos.

2) Read. Please research the topics you talk about in columns. See what other people have to say. If you did this before you wrote novels, you could have published better writing.

 

Unless he does this, he is just the Kapil Sharma of writing – making fun of women throughout the show, and concluding with “aurton ki izzat karni chaye”.

The by-lanes of Kurla.

I have always at wanted to do volunteer work. When I saw a mail saying that Pratham foundation learning lab needed volunteers to help teach English to BMC school students, I leaped. There was some backward and forward discussion, because my class ought not to clash with a trip that was planned or with my research data collection. The trip was cancelled and I was to teach in the afternoons so mornings were free for data collection.

So came my first day. It was a group of young students who would soon go to college, and wanted to go ahead in life with confidence, and learning English would help them to do so. I was as nervous as they were, as I was assessing them, and they were assessing me. All of their needs were very different and I wondered if I would do any good a job.

I decided to start with grammar on the second class, but two of the students did not turn up. But at least three did. One of those missing came for the third class, and he told me he found the grammar and dictionary stuff useless, as he just wanted to read and get done with it. I did not force him to pay attention. But when we were doing reading towards the end of a class, he could not pronounce what was taught at the beginning. I told him this is why its necessary to learn the basics. I don’t know if I helped him grasp the need or built an even higher wall. I do hope its the former.

The other employees offered to take me to Kurla station via a shortcut, and since I didn’t want to be rude, I did agree. These were women whom I admired because they could mix with the students freely. I know that with me, there was an invisible wall. The short-cut consisted of going over a gutter and through the back-lanes. It.It is a different world out there. I won’t pretend to be the first one to point out  the contrasts of city life. We have all heard about the skyscrapers next to the slum.

But what I saw was my discomfort translated into tangible objects and sights. Because of Field Work from TISS, we have been taught not to show off when we go to work with people who might not be as economically and socially privileged as us. Some of my classmates agreed with it, others just pretended to do so to please the teachers. I was not sure why I myself followed this. I did not think we were at par with them, because regardless of how much we toned down, it was apparent that we came from different places.

Yet, that day, going to the station I realized something. It was not that just because we behaved properly with them, everyone else would. And the point was not to give that impression. Rather, it was to further the belief that they have in themselves. To grow that thing, that belief that pushed them to come to us, to come to an English class. To portray to them that kindness can exist. To portray to them that just like the gutter won’t go away overnight, to change their situation would not be an easy job, but the point is, the journey need not be unpleasant.

Even the by-lanes of Kurla can have trees that give shade, and whose leaves rustle in the wind.

Sophistication maybe owned by the upper class, but joy definitely isn’t.

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A book review of ‘Sookhe Ghoont’, an Anthology by Ankit Dwivedi.

I think that this is the first time that I am officially reviewing a piece of writing on this blog. Note – I am no authority on Hindi literature, I have read very little of it; yet, I will try my best to do justice to this anthology. I will be going into a bit of a background first, so please bear with me.

The person – Ankit is a friend of mine from TISS. I actually met him only a few days before he published the book, say about ten days before. He was already ‘famous’ in the campus, for want of a better word and half my class is part of a theatre troupe with him, so we end up meeting. We end up talking about larger than life things each time we meet – life, philosophy, equality, whether literature is elitist, and things like that. Each chat with him stirs a lot of thought in my head, and so did his book, but more on that later. From this narrative, you might think he would be some steely-faced, philosopher type. Not at all true. His presence is very humble and unassuming. I think this shows through the poetry as well.

The process – Ankit tells me that 4 months ago, he did not even write a word. His friend Tanya then encouraged him to write down his thoughts, and suddenly, 41 poems were staring at him. It feels magical and movie-like, but I understand this. Sometimes, the right channel is all that is needed to get oneself flowing. He was in the process of getting appropriate cover art, and going to and fro the publisher and other nitty-gritties of publishing. He has not gone through an agent, but done it himself, with the help of a few friends and it really is commendable. Finally, came the night of the book launch. That too, was a snug, comfortable affair. The moving classical music added a celestial touch to the evening, while Ankit blushing and stammering at even the hint of praise added a comical one.

The poetry – The book consists of 41 poems, divided into two themes. The first theme is society, and this section is called ‘tamache’ with 28 poems under it. These are daily observations that anyone would have made on their way to and fro work, or they could be hidden facts of our society that we think of as ugly truths and ignore. From the subtle discrimination to clear maltreatment (of certain individuals in the society) are slowly portrayed as you turn the pages. What I like is that most of the poems are more questions or narrations than opinions. This leaves enough space for the reader to explore their views on the topic. If it were a stern opinion that was expressed, the confrontation would make sure that the possibility of any dialogue with oneself and one’s beliefs goes flying out the window. On the flipside, certain poems were slightly longer than they should be, in my opinion, so that the reader stays with the idea, rather than his or her mind starting to flee because of the length of the poem.

The second theme is exclusively on women. It is called ‘gehno ke peeche’ and has 13 poems under it. The various themes captured under it range from widowhood practices in India, to maternal instinct, the profession of prostitution and how women are generally perceived. The author’s distaste for all of the mistreatment and discrimination is very clear in all the poems, and the view has been articulately expressed. These are everyday stories that we might have nodded sympathetically to and stored away somewhere in our head. To bring this to the fore means facing the uncomfortable truth with regards to what a hostile world it is for women. What I found lacking however, was the narratives of women who do not perhaps think of themselves in terms of mainstream notions of women, or do not want things like beauty, freedom to study or other mainstream struggles of being a woman in a patriarchal society – but say themes like exploration of alternate sexuality and so on. Therefore, I found this section lacking, as compared to the first one. Still, it’s a good attempt.

Aesthetically speaking, you might find tune lacking in some poems. Ankit says that this book is not a book of poems expressing ideas, but a book of ideas expressing poems. Therefore, putting ideas forth takes priority over melody. But the words used are pretty common place, so you need not worry about not knowing Hindi too well. Also, Ankit mentioned trying to translate the poems into English sometime in the future, so hopefully, a wider public can read it. In the quality of poetry, I found a resonance with the works of Arun Kolatkar, the observational and narrative style, with subtle undertones, and often a crudeness which comes from more originality and less refining and polishing of words.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book. Behind the poetry, I sense an angry mind. Angry, yet not pessimistic. I personally think that a pessimist is an angry person who has lost all hope. So, if a person is only angry yet, he still has hope. And although some of the poems may sound pessimistic, I somewhere sense a desperate attempt in them to make people uncomfortable and move them towards change. In fact, the whole idea of putting forth a book of such thoughts is to bring about some little change possible. This change might be just in the way people perceive such small social instances, but any revolution starts in the mind before it is out on the streets, and maybe this book will provide its own little impetus to that.

The cover of the Anthology

The ‘Pliss to Tell’ generation


Warning, or Spoiler Alert – This may turn out to be a rant post. Sure you can bear it? All right then.

If you are anything like me, you do not ask for help from people as long as you can do things yourself. I mean, yes you depend on other people for services, but at least your own work you do, even if you’re not high on being as willing to do other people’s work. But, I’ve come to notice over the years, that what would shame me, is just a trifle for others. For example, if I needed information about an institute or a course, I’m much more likely to visit the relevant website, and talk to people of that institute only as a second opinion and not make them my primary source of information.

I would do so for two reasons. One – they are people, so their view maybe biased or wrong, or, at any rate, not as impartial as the official information. Two – because I have internet, brains and surfing skills and its absurd to bug others or depend on them for information I could easily obtain. And yet, there are scores of people looking for compressed information, they want something even easier than going to the relevant website for information!

I recently gave the TISS entrance and I’ve been flooded with such inquiries. And if these were people who went to the website first, didn’t follow and then asked me, I’d understand. No, they blatantly asked without bothering to look for themselves first! I think this is where the whole collectivistic nature of India comes in. In the west, they are very individualistic and would not ask for help as long as they can do things themselves. I think this one value should be imbibed in us – of independence. As students we are always plying on others to help us for things we can easily do, and therefore it is not a wonder that at work, when people aren’t obliged to help us, we feel stuck.

Don’t think that I don’t like giving information, in fact, if the exchange is mutual, as with friends, I love doing so. But all the people who asked me were mere acquaintances, who brushed up contact with me to only ask about the entrance exam, and if I tried to ignore, they sent such texts as if I were some culprit trying to hide information that is supposed to be openly available to the public! News flash – It is openly available to the public! It’s on their Website!

An extension of this is, that people who do not do their own work, don’t think for themselves as well. Which is why the majority is swayed by opinion and advice freely available in India. All of us can make a start to be mentally independent by being independent with our work, and not using our acquaintances or contacts as ‘tools’ to our needs and then brandishing ourselves as ‘forever alone’ because we have no real friends. We never cultivated any!

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India : Forever the plundered.

The case of the moving bus gang-rape victim is all over the papers, I need not repeat it. But is this case only about a girl who got raped? Or its about a societal attitude that has cropped up in the most extreme forms?

Following the news, my parents (like many of my friends’ parents), have been stringent with where I go and what time I get back, among other restrictions. They are obviously trying to keep me safe, but in doing so, they are reinforcing the very notion that is wrong: Women are vulnerable, and need to be protected, that the outside world is not their place, and that if they go there, they will always carry a risk.

But its not only my parents that are wrong, many other agents in the society are. Death penalty, castration demands, fast-track courts, outrage – all are required. But they aren’t the solution to the problem. They are like the bucket you keep under a water leakage till you can get a plumber to fix it.

But this is what we do – we never get the plumber, and when the bucket overflows, we don’t replace or empty it either. Our outrage, like that of the past, will die within a couple of months, like it did with the Kenan and Reuben case, among many others. Besides, our outrage is shade racist. We don’t care much for women raped in Kashmir, for example. This woman, was raped twice. After the gangrape, she was raped in police custody because her brother joined militants. http://www.kashmirdispatch.com/sameer-bhat/211210446-shabnam-the-woman-who-was-raped-twice.htm . For the extended article, see – http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2012/Dec/23/kashmir-joins-delhi-gang-rape-protests-albeit-with-a-suffix-37.asp . Here, we are implying 2 things – that even the women of those regions who contribute to the economy of the nation are not safe, and backward in their views towards women, as backwards as remote areas, and second, that only people in such privileged areas are important, that only these’ peoples rights will be fought for, and that only the voice of the metros matters.

Besides the way we outrage, even the way we grow up is wrong. This two articles in The Hindu say what I want to say, rather well – http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/rape-and-the-crisis-of-indian-masculinity/article4214267.ece , http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/time-to-be-ashamed/article4214334.ece .

The basic idea of these two articles, is that most rapes are those where young males encroach upon the modesty and freedom of women who are just trying to work and carry on their daily life. But, somewhere, there is resentment. They have grown up having more importance than their wives and sisters at home, and they can’t digest it when these same weak women, take up jobs that should be theirs, and earn prestige they aren’t entitled to.

It is not only the young unemployed youth who have this mindset. In minor rape cases, constables often escort young boys and girls to hospital wards for medical examination, loudly claiming that ‘iska rape hua hai. Check karo’, apparently having no idea how it will traumatize the child.

It takes no genius to realize that he needs to be sensitive. But, he is just one of the faces among many. The many who feel that anyone who is weak can be exploited, and blamed. As if somewhere, he felt that it was the child’s fault that he was raped. (Or that he reported the crime? God knows)

We already know of cases where men working in the lower rungs of law enforcement themselves are wife-beaters, tribal officers themselves rape young tribal girls. In these, and many other cases, there is double or more than double victimization.

And this is not just the remote places that I’m talking of. Everyday, in each home in the city even, subtle sexism still exists. Maybe they do it because they feel they are protecting their daughters, but in truth they are not. They are getting them accustomed to the ways of society, but of such a rotten society, that it needs to be changed. Girls shouldn’t be asked to stop going out, but be equipped to be safe wherever they go out. And this is only  a temporary solution – in long term – such measures should not be required – the society should be THAT SAFE.

People will tell me that what I say here is very idealistic, and that fast-track courts are a much more practical idea. Yes, they are a brilliant idea, to handle the level of problems that we have reached. But eventually, you will need to go to the root of the issue and treat it. And that lies in changing how the men and the women of the nation think.

India has been forever a plundered land. Be it by outsiders, or by those within. That needs to change. Not because women work, or contribute to GDP, or give birth to children, or are your wives or sisters, but because they are human and there is no other justification required.

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(Photo contributed by @AdamFredie on Twitter)

A Kashmir Hangover.

When I left for my college trip to Jammu and Kashmir, I had within me. a pleasant anxiety of the days to come. Kashmir is beautiful, this I knew from others who had visited the place. But, whether the beauty would absorb and overwhelm me and make a cumulative difference to my thought, was the question.

I flatter myself as being someone of good organizational habits and a little more than slight literary bent of mind. And so, on my trip, I jotted down observations and made a couple of sketches. Their true worth, I realized only after getting back. I am going to treasure these diary entries.

I found Gulmarg and Pahalgaam most beautiful, what with the lovely snowfall, endless meadows and stunning valleys. The pure and clean river streams with colourful smooth stones underneath, with the slow repetitive sound of running water, was incredibly soothing. Dal lake, our nightly stay in the houseboat, and the shikara ride which showed to us the vast expanse of the lake was calming and peaceful.

I believe we went there at the right time, with autumn in progress. The gently falling leaves as they traced their path along the helpful breeze, could literally slow down time for me. I could gaze at the view for hours.

We were, however, a group of almost 60 people, and with such a large group, do come some annoyances. Disliked personality traits, delays, and frustrating change of plans are a few of them.

Because of the terrain of the area, most of the travel happened by bus and jeep, and most of the times, for hours at a stretch. People did fall sick out of dizziness or motion sickness, but nothing lastingly harmful or damaging happened. An added discomfort to the women was the absence of proper bathroom facilities on the way, but since that is the scenario all over India, Kashmir can’t be expected to be an exception.

All the above apart, the sight seeing was definitely worth the trouble we had to go through and the mismanagement we had to face.

As a psychology student, I incurred some interesting insights and observations about the locals. I felt bad that they deceive tourists in money matters, charging them double or more, but, it might be their only source of income, especially for those of low socio-economic status.

I also observed that the locals got angry very quickly, and did not often make an attempt to control or hide it. I would think its biological, but a friend informed me, that the locals are provided basic necessities by the government, and therefore, there is no motivation to inculcate hospitality towards tourists. This could be the reason why I did not see any malnourished poor people, which are a regular sighting in Mumbai.

Though, the locals are not to be entirely blamed for their display of stronger emotions. By experience, I do admit that tourists often act in irritating and offensive ways, as cultural transcendence doesn’t come easily to all.

I learnt from my trip that having something that drives you, is as important as taking time off and joyfully exploring the world around. That, stability is a requisite, just like change is. Only then, can life be truly and satisfactorily enjoyed.

In these ten days, I have seen bronze valleys full of characteristic Chinar trees, the prettiest of faces that are so without any conscious effort at beauty, tasted kahwa, tuj and other amazingly tasty local food, and above all, carry within me, the warmth and glow of having seem one of the most beautiful places on the planet.