The solution to fundamentalism, wastage and mediocrity is the same.

Why are we wasting water despite the draught in Maharashtra?

Why do we continue to live in outdated ways that are eating up our environment?

Why do we keep becoming fundamentalists, and keep funding fundamentalism?

The answer is that because we are using our mind, our thinking capacities all wrong. Those aspects of us, like belief and the ability to ignore when needed, as well as to conform to social rules to help avoid crimes and chaos – we are using all of these qualities to turn a blind eye to prevalent problems, and to not change our ways. We grew up this way – don’t question, just cover your own interests, you are too small to matter in any way.

When you socialize the child in this way, and beat out all sorts of divergent thinking patterns in schools and other institutions as he or she grows, are you surprised that so many people take to fundamentalism, because it finally allows them to feel passion again? Or many become mediocre products of society just buying the mass products created by it’s markets? Or has such a hard time imagining anything without a video in front of it, that it can’t imagine the shambles that the world is coming to?

To save the pitfalls of the mind, which were twisted for various reasons to shut out voices of dissent, we have to develop two basic skills, and we totally have to cultivate in our children with urgen fervour – these are two skills more important than teaching language, math or science.

These two skills are: Critical Thinking and Empathy.

Recently, there was a mention of ‘a case against empathy’ because it marrs clear thinking. That’s more than a little stupid because humans are complex and so they can surely think critcally, and be empathetic, both together. We are not so droll as to be able to do only one at a time.

Critical thinking would help us question the logic of strange statements thrown at us, so that belief does not get the better of us and perpetuate a faulty decision. And empathy is required for basic human connection, which would be the motivating factor for any good change, for a person going out of the way to change a convenient habit, because it harms someone.

For example, if I child was taught critical thinking and empathy right from birth and it was just more enhanced in school, he would not buy it if someone told him, that his religion asks him to kill people of another religion. His empathy would help him understand the plight of those who are facing a draught, so he would change his ways to save whatever water he can. These two qualities would ensure that he makes people accountable for environmental damage. Imagination, an offshoot of empathy, would help him visualise an uninhabiltable world, socially and environmentally, and that would help him take all the steps needed to address these situations, without feeling robbed of ‘comforts’.

While some of us do manage to see things a different way, and develop these skills, even our efforts at convincing others will fizzle out if we socially reinforce all the wrong traits. We just need to correct what we are teaching and okaying. The real things need to matter now.

Women in Progress

A little conscious,
As we dress differently,
The effect of conditioning.
Then we remind ourselves that it is our right.
We are a work in progress.

Muttering some gossip,
Still some crayons in our hands,
Awkwardly serious,
About social issues.
Coming on,
A little too strong.

Sure, there’s a long way to go.
A test to pass.
I don’t know everything inside out. All the theories and arguments.
But in the cause I believe.
A work in progress.

The costliest thing in India that inflation can’t explain: Having an opinion

Outrage is the new Indian hobby. Initially, social media would outrage over issues that required outraging, like rapes and brutal statements by politicians and what not, but now a days, we seem to outrage without thinking. Or worse, we outrage to drown out minority voices. Minority here stands not for muslims, but any person or group of people who want something different than what the mainstream does, something that is not an illegal or immoral thing to ask for.

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When Aamir Khan said his wife suggested moving out of India, he voiced the feelings of not just Muslims, but all sorts of groups who have felt targeted and the Government has done nothing to tell them they will be looked after. These groups include, but are not limited to: women, queer population, Sikhs, SC and ST population, tribals, people in high-distress areas, people affected by man-made and natural disasters, people under the poverty line, people with mental and physical disability, people affected by crimes, people stuck in human trafficking and child labour, children and young adults stuck in observation homes, and so on.

There were some Muslims who came out and said that they have had nothing but love and respect in India, so how could Aamir Khan say what he did. First of all, it’s good that their experience was nice, but because he expressed a different opinion, that does not mean that he is wrong. He has all right to say what he feels, and it is not irresponsible, because he just expressed a sentiment, that many people have been feeling, and not flung mud at anyone blaming them for it.

The outrage he harnessed proved his point that we are inching towards intolerance and bursting at our seems. But it also proved the convenient duality we had: We are happy to garner NRI investments, but loathe when someone talks of leaving the country. We want to champion minority rights, but we don’t care when Muslim women say that they want changes in the Muslim personal law. Perhaps he poked us where it hurts: our denial blind spot.

This divided attention and lack of peace-making efforts from central authorities (but harrowing communal comments from politicians, instead), speak of a psychological divide that was only at the fringes before but now is seeping in everywhere. There are some who are not divided but they simply do not care, and I can’t decide which is worse.

In light of the recent incidents, having an opinion is perhaps the costliest in India. It is much easier if you want to be a mule, absorb consumer products and mindlessly churn our revenue and tax.

Why ‘men will be men’ is most damaging to men.

So, if you google ‘men will be men’, you will find a million memes, videos and images that reduce men to sex boxes. Thanks to Imperial Blue’s ad campaign, this is reinforced all the more.

In the typical ad by this company, men are pretending to be fitter because they can only thinking of deceiving a person into sex when they see a woman, or they will ‘protectively’ keep a hand on the shoulder of their wives/ girlfriends to show another male that his is better, or at least he has one.

Apparently, men have the egos of five year olds and the mating rules of the animal kingdom.

I disagree.

I have had the most moving emotional conversations with some male friends of mine. Others have given me great intellectual insights. Still others, have engaged in philosophical debates with me, enriching me all the more with it.

My guy friends are good friends who are there for me, they are good at what they do, they are good at their hobbies, and they are great people.

I refuse to think that their brains do not function beyond sex, gaming and sports.

Most human beings think about sex. It’s normal. No need to make it a man’s domain. And women also like gaming and sports. And there are men who do not like gaming and sports. And even if they do, they do not suck at balancing their emotional lives along with their interests.

Although it is very convenient to want to say ‘men will be men’ for certain stereotypical male behaviour, it is damaging in the long term because it portrays men as some sort of one dimensional, unfeeling, sex boxes. They are so much more. This kind of understanding about how men are and supposed to be, is what reduces the chances of sexual abuse and rape against boys and men being reported, this increases the likelihood of domestic violence on men, as well as makes it possible to misuse women protection laws because men are always seen as perpetrators and strong – they can never be victims. If a person is craving sex all the time, of course they can’t be raped – this thinking is encouraged.

This kind of thinking makes bullying and ragging look like rites of passage and young boys growing up not reporting horrendous acts of violence because you are supposed to ‘take it like a man’.

It makes it very difficult for men to have fulfilling romantic relationships.

Lastly, it reduces women to one-dimensional beings who do not like their male partners to be involved in sports and hobbies and play hard to get. Redundant crap.

After so many years on this planet, we as people certainly have more depth than being the one dimensional man and woman. Even cave-people did.

It’s easy to use ‘men will be men’ to justify something you or your friend did, but it is not very different from when women are offered privileges due to patriarchy (date bills paid by the male partner), and by succumbing to them, women add to the status quo of inequality.

Next time you or someone you know wants to use the above justification, stop yourselves and give yourselves permission to be a complete human, not a one-dimensional sex box.

No, thanks IB.

How to: Feminism of convenience.

Many people I talk to, especially men of my age – from academic or social surroundings, have a very negative view of Feminism. They throw around the word ‘Feminazi’ without knowing it’s implications. I know that every woman who swears by this ideology would be fuming, and so would male feminists (yes – they exist). But I do not know if these men can be blamed entirely for their lack of knowledge.

I could fume about them being misinformed, but all of the responsibility does not lie with them. Their bad view of Feminism comes from men and women who have used the ideology to their advantage but have not stood true to the tenants of it. Instead of shaking my head sadly, I could inform them of what the ideology actually is, just like I have to talk to people about what Islam actually is. That is the one thing that has helped to do away with Islamophobia.

And when you talk to them, they tell you their negative brush with feminism or at least, feminism used as an excuse.The examples will vary from women hitting them and getting away with it because of their being women, to asking being let off from work with periods as an excuse. When it comes to splitting the bill on a date, standing for men’s right to emotional expression, or doing their bit towards a social issue or a workplace, the feminism disappears.

What allows for this misuse of the ideology to happen?

At the root of this is the one word we all hate fervently: Patriarchy.

Patriarchy will see men as strong and never in the victim role. This effectively makes sure that men who are victims of domestic violence or rape are never taken seriously. This makes sure that some women and their families misuse the Dowry Prohibition Act (498a) to meet their goal of getting out of a marriage.

In the short run, these people will get what they want or they will silence the victimized men, but it is sad that the women in these situations do not see the ultimate harm they do to other women by misusing feminism and pro-women laws. They do not see that the thousands of suppressed women will lose a chance of being taken seriously, for the few men and women who do not understand the ideology.

The question that follows after I explain that feminism strives for equal rights of men and women, as well as other genders, is – Why call it Feminism then? Why make it sound pro-woman?

Because of the history. When this movement started, women were the oppressed group, and even today, many women remain oppressed.

Which is why it scares me when young men and women either banish the term or misuse it.

So, to clarify, if you say you are a feminist, you CANNOT:

1) Ask a male partner to ‘man up’ when he is emotional, because feminism propogates the right of men to their emotional sides. If you cannot deal with them being emotional, say it’s something you struggle with, but do not call yourself a feminist and banish it.
2) You cannot look down upon grassroot workers, men and women who are trying to better the status of women, because they do not study in lofty universities like you do.
3) You cannot use it to cheat on your partner or keep sexual history hidden, unless you’re okay with receiving the same treatment.
4) You cannot hit ANYONE, unless it is self-defense. In our skewed society, men are struggling to be recognized at victims and get the required help. Do not add to the burden.
5) You cannot make fun of ANYONE. Men, other women, other genders, or people of different sexual orientation. Feminism says that people are equal regardless of gender, age, color, orientation.
6) You cannot criticize people for what they are wearing, it is their choice if they want to wear a burqa, a bikini, or nothing. You have no right to TELL someone they are oppressed. You can inquire.
7) You cannot enjoy the perks of patriarchy when they benefit you, and use feminism as a defense when that benefits you. Make up your mind and stay on one side. At least do not add to the dilution of the ideology.

Patriarchy, with all it’s flaws, may have some temporary benefits. A man might ‘pamper’ his female partner because that is what traditional gender roles would call for. But before anyone takes part in this indulgence, think – You may be getting an expensive wrist-watch in this transaction, but by accepting this state of affairs, what are you doing for the number of men and women, who have and are still suffering due to the restrains of patriarchy.

Yes, patriarchy affects men too. Their right of emotional expression, of being loving and involved parents is taken away. They are taught from childhood to view women as inferior, and they struggle forever to undo this learning, they get crippled in relationships because of always being taught aloofness. They face problems at work because anger has always been encouraged in them. They have to confirm to typically male roles and activities.

Patriarchy is limiting in the long run. Feminism is a way out of it, but if it is used to escape work when you are on your period, rather than demand health expense to find out why you get this pain and what you can do to manage it – it starts to dilute and succumb to misuse.

Regardless of whether you call yourself a feminist or not, regardless of whether you are a woman or not – before you indulge in the perks of patriarchy or use feminism to your convenience and dilute it, think what it will do to the number of people who are still not living in a world as advantageous or liberated as yours and could actually use a progressive ideology to help themselves.

Make up your mind.

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”.

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