That Banked Fire

There is a subdued sense of fury as I drive through the streets of Bangalore. It is quite late in the night, and the streets are fairly empty. But there is just enough traffic and casual laidbackness for the neighboring vehicle to peep into the other car, curious about its occupants. This is nothing new. Particularly since the removal of window tints, there has been a overwhelming share of stares into a woman-driven car.

I thought I had gotten used to it. You practice your blank stare, you practice studiously ignoring the auto driver or the tempo driver staring at your every move, even if it is as mundane as you fiddling with the stereo or lighting a smoke or applying lip balm. You learn to live with it.

But there is a banked fury that has begun to rear its head up at such stares. A intolerance towards that guy who is crossing the road just by your car and leers at you. The overwhelming urge to get out of the cocoon of your car and ask the guy what is so funny, if he has never seen a girl before.

I didn’t particularly relate it to the Delhi Bus Rape.

There have been numerous heinous incidents and they all pass, leaving things just the way they are before.

But, maybe, just maybe, we have reached the end of our tolerance. The latest attack has awakened the constant sense of insecurity that haunts us and we learn to tamp down.

A walk down Church Street – a street located right in the middle of the busy city – a little past 11 PM is harrowing. An attempt to buy cigarettes at a non-fancy store is always a little bit of an ordeal, starting from the 4 bucks you have to pay extra for a pack. Waiting in line at the fuel station a little late in the night is uncomfortable, with the curious glances.

You know that nothing is going to happen, but there is never a sense of ease.

This does not stop us from living. This cannot stop us from doing everyday things because then, we would have to stop living. We would have to sit indoors or be escorted by multiple bodyguards and male ones at that, to have a life.

Perhaps that is the wise thing to do. Not take risks.

But what does one define as risk? Going out with friends for dinner? Having a drink? Smoking? Wearing jeans and standing by the road, hailing an auto? All these things are risky in today’s modern world.

Cultural theorists, women-oriented organizations and everybody else is theorizing why there is an increase in the rape numbers.

They blamed the woman for dressing the way she did and living the way she did. They blamed her for going out with ‘male’ friends. Such an insult to both the sexes.

And if these were the reasons, when would it ever be safe for me to step out of my house? Should I wait indoors for someone else to make the streets safe for me? And how will they do that? By telling men not to rape? And when will people ever listen?

I cannot and will not put my life on hold while others try to figure out a solution for this. The government’s solution is to ask women not to work at night. They figure if there are no women out on the streets at night, there won’t be any to rape.

Perhaps it is foolhardy to travel alone. But I do like to travel. I do like to shoot. And it is hardly realistic to expect company on each of these trips. Why should my art, my work suffer because my country finds it strange I’m woman out on the streets alone?

I appreciate company. I appreciate a friend looking out when needed. But what about times when you have to go at it alone?

If we never stand up and say “I’m going to do this and you better learn to deal with it” how will things ever change?

If women had never stood up and said I wanna work too, where would we be today? The world is not a kind place that will give you things simply because you have a dream. You need to work at it.

Prince Charming on his White Horse is dead. And not needed. Let’s go be our own angels.

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Not Okay

After a series of discussions and posts that left me quite disillusioned, a friend asked “so what can we do other than post messages and sign petitions?”

What can we do indeed?

We aren’t the krantikari types, who would fast for days till the laws change. We are cynical enough to believe that they will not change. We have accepted the state of things as our due.

You get ‘eve teased’, you roll your eyes and bear it. You get pinched and mugged, you cry and bear it. You get taken for a ride in a government office, you grit your teeth and bear it.

This isn’t gender specific. This is the way things are.

What do we do?

It is difficult to chart out a plan of action when such a stark question faces you. Because the answer is not in Step 1 and 2, but a series of little things that add up to the big picture.

For instance, let’s not focus on sex. Rape isn’t about lust or sex. If it was only about sex, the Delhi monsters would have thrown the guy who was with the girl out on the street, instead of locking him up and making him live through the misery, and the nightmare for the rest of his life. Making him feel powerless was yet another part of the assault.

This is not a guy vs girl thing. This is about the lack of fear, which perhaps comes from the fact that many find it socially acceptable to do such things.

I do not want to make a reference to Bollywood movies here, or any movies, but since that is the frame of reference that further bolsters these people’s twisted ideas, let us consider it.

Most Indian movies show the female lead reluctant to ‘date’ the ‘hero.’ She does not particularly like him, but that doesn’t really deter him. He goes on to shower her with his unwanted affections through gifts, watching her house though no one calls it stalking, sending her flowers repeatedly, and if nothing else works, planting a big kiss on her. Nobody here calls it molestation, and the girl ends up falling in love with him.

So that’s one point of reference.

The second would the kind of culture they grew up in. Now, in most houses, nobody really says that it is okay to rape. But there is always a tinge of immorality associated with girls who do things that are out of bounds of the ‘society’s conventions’. Like if she married someone of her own will. There is a fair bit of talk about the guy too, but somehow, it is the girl who managed to lure him in. Like the guy is a mindless idiot who cannot make a decision for himself.

Now, anything which goes wrong from there, it would obviously be the girl’s fault, because she dishonoured the family name and hence, deserves it. In smaller towns, this is taken up a notch. If possible, they would drag the girl back home.

And in some cases, beat her up.

Both men and women of a particular generation find nothing wrong in giving the girl a slap or a punch now and then. Perfectly acceptable. You can’t blame this one on the men alone. Women are equal partners. They expect their daughters to be able to take a punch and not come home whining and crying.

So, according to this point of reference, it is okay to beat up woman.

The third would be a complete wrong image of what the opposite sex is all about.

As the famous joke goes, they expect you to never talk to a man all your life and then expect you to have sex with an absolute stranger.

Talking to the opposite sex has a strange aura of danger in most parts of our country. You can talk to your brother, your father and your uncles. Your knowledge of the male psyche is limited to this circle, who probably don’t pay that much attention to you anyway. The men’s exposure is to their mothers, sisters and aunts, all of whom are compelled to praise you and make you think you do nothing wrong.

What happens when these two people clash? A woman who does not know how to talk to a man and a man who is not able to listen to what she has to say.

Of course, the reasoning for rape goes beyond all this into an area of darkness I cannot even fathom. A power trip in the midst of all this?

But maybe this is a starting point… Maybe we can begin examining what the hell we are doing?

Everything is definitely not okay with us when a 5 year old can be raped by her uncle. When a young girl is raped on a train platform. On a moving bus. On an open street. Abused in a local guest house. It is not okay when a group of young adults celebrating a birthday get beaten up and molested.

Why Caste Matters & Does Not in India

The NYTimes found the fact that India appointed a Muslim as the director of the Indian Intelligence Bureau a strong enough point to draft an entire article around it. The author wondered if Egypt would take a leaf out of India’s book and follow such a ‘secular’ model.

The article has a simplistic view of India, which is perhaps good for the country’s global standing. They author believes that India is actually secular and democratic country.

As a citizen witnessing numerous riots and clashes in everyday life, I am not sure I agree.

In terms of titular heads of various organizations, we have been quite effective in placing all castes and religions.

We had Muslim Presidents, Sikh Presidents, Prime Ministers, Supreme Court Judges etc.

But the fact that we are making such a big deal about appointing a Muslim as a direction of the IIB just shows that we are not really secular. In a secular country, the religion of a head should not matter. His religion does not really come into play in a post as high as this. We have appointed him for his skill and accomplishments. Does the fact that he is a Muslim make a difference to how he functions?

Caste and religion play an important role in everyday life.

Take Karnataka for instance. The governments here are deeply divided. Janata Dal, which used to be a popular, ‘farmer’ party, leans heavily towards Gowdas. Party loyalists know that you are not as favored if you belong to any other class.

But if you are a Lingayat, you would side with Yediyurappa. He promises you the riches.

I’m not making this stuff up. Just read any news articles in the past few months, where every minister has openly talked about this.

They do not care if they topple the government as long as someone from their caste stays in power.

Take Bihar. It is a constant war between the lower and the  upper castes. Lalu Prasad Yadav won repeatedly, as some articles pointed out, not because he brought in great development. His caste has more members in a more powerful position. And he does represent the underdog vs the Thakurs etc.

There are again the Yadavs and the Gurjars and the Tiwaris, who all have to fall back on areas that are strong with their castemen to gain votes.

I used the words ‘caste men’ specifically here, because in these areas women are yet to smell the air of ’empowerment.’

Though they legally have the power to vote, what is the ratio of women who do vote according to their choice and not what their husbands state.

Sure, the government ads show ghunghat-clad women happily powdering chillies or milking cows that will be sold and get them money, ergo empowerment. But what is the statistic for women education in these areas? What are the statistics for the deaths of women in these areas?

There are some cases that manage to leak out of the caste-enclosed communities and we read about murders in the name of family honour, rape meted out as punishment and more. But I constantly get the feeling that the actual numbers are much higher than what we get to read about.

But then, we are one of the few nations in the world to have had women Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and cops in high position. And we worship female deities as well. We have entire festivals dedicated to them, rather than leaving them on the lower altar.

That does not preclude rapes, murders, female infanticide, lower education rates, child marriage to older men and many such things.

The Indian mind works on a strange level. We are able to beautifully compartmentalize things like ‘laws’ and ‘reality’.

So, there might not be much fuss about a Muslim being a director, or a woman being a PM. Because these are things that affect us for half an hour in the morning, so to speak. We do not consider the larger impact of these things. But a woman walking down on the street late at night, a man offending your God in front of you – these are things that actually get you going.

Once that spark is lit, the other things come into play.

We aren’t democratic. For  most part, it still remains a sham… booth capturing, fake votes and lots more. We still have the system of reservation in every single aspect of our functioning.

It starts at the school level… and then continues through your life, where a guy who perhaps does not even want to be a doctor gets entry into a medical school because a) reservation quotas b) it becomes a point of honour for his family. His talent and aptitude rarely are considered here.

We are not even particularly secular. We discriminate based on sub-caste, caste, religion, gender, language and region. We are as fricking racist as one can get.

And yet, we function. As a whole. Either because we turn a blind eye to a lot of things that don’t go down easy, or we ‘adjust’. And we believe that two wrongs might just equal a right.

So, I would like to hear more about why we are NOT like Egypt. Why we are believed to have a culture of dialogue, peaceful and respectful arguing, and not a rock-throwing, boycotting, conspiracy-mongering atmosphere.

A Country of Simple Emotions

There is a curious feeling in the air. Perhaps it is that feeling of fear, or apprehension, of an impending sense of danger around the corner.

The country, which seemed simple, even if a little chaotic, seems to be filled with strangely idealistic people in power. Of course, idealism can be good, but in such vast quantities, it can be dangerous. Combined with the kind of hunger that exists in our country, it can be fatal. That hunger, combined with their ideals and age old traditions, they head out to worse horizons.

Perhaps it is the age of internet that enhances these values. Or was it always the case and the age of the internet merely highlights this behaviour? A little hard to fathom.

But these dangerous morons see the internet as their enemy, as they rightly should. They worry about how people now have access to all areas of their lives. Their phone calls, their emails, their correspondence is no longer sacred. A tiny hidden camera under a table, a microphone hidden in a pen and the contents shared worldwide through the media, so the entire population knows what they are upto in moments and it keeps on growing.

Of course, we believe that this spread of information is vast and powerful. The truth perhaps lies somewhere in the middle. For there do exist in huge pockets of the country, people who know nothing of what is happening in two towns away. They are content with grazing their cows, drinking their fresh tea and their biggest worry being when the rains are coming that season.

They do not care about the bigger politics of the world. They do not care if a gunman shot down 15 people are a glitzy restaurant, the sort of which they have never seen out of a movie. The motivations behind such an attack are as surreal as a movie to them. When they watch it on the news, if they get around to it, they perhaps think of it as a movie. They believe that once the program is over the people will get up and go on with their lives. Their brushes with the police is when a cow gets stolen or someone’s daughter runs away with a guy from another caste.

That is when they take the ‘law’ into their hands. They perhaps do not even consider it ‘law into their hands’. They see it as defending their honour the only way they’ve been taught to. They kill. They live with it. A blood feud starts to end a few generations later when both sides are too tired or too broke for such quarrels. Wish the country’s politics were as simple. With the force of a million sentiments behind them, at least in some part, the country’s politics are pushed further and further beyond reason.

They are pushed so far where the entire country rejoices the death of one man. One man believed to be the enemy. Death, they believe, is the final answer. That is perhaps a gentler answer.

It definitely is more gentle than the things that come to my mind, all of which involve keeping him alive. Keep him alive, keep him locked up alone and flood him with literature that makes him realise a world beyond what he was taught. Turn him from a soldier into a man. A man who shudders to think of the lives he took, who cries at the atrocities he launched.

But we remain simple people. Death is the simple answer. The people would not see the longer story. They want the story to end in 3 hours. We aren’t a crowd who are familiar with seqeuls spreading over years. Our stories are long but at the endo f 3 hours the people walk into the sunset. The dangerous morons want this. A sequel could mean a change of many things, including a loss of their power. Time, after all, is transient.

This is a country where I live. A country ruled by emotions, cunningness and plotting rather than careful planning of the future We waste resources, we blow up people and hten we pretend to be simple.

This is the country we live in.

A country of simple emotions.

The Category of Indian Citizens

Its been a day of several post revisions.

The post had been on my mind since I heard about the death of Bal Thackeray and the eulogies trending online from everyone.

Bal Thackeray in my memory has constantly been someone who disrupted a lot of things in the name of protecting the Hindu Culture. It was there from school days, when we used to cheer a day of bandh and no school. The reasons were unimportant but it seeped in somewhere there, that it was because of Shiv Sena. Later, some comments made by Mr. Thackeray rankled. We debated, argued and left it at that.

But Bal Thackeray was a man to be admired for his consolidation of his position in a city like Bombay, which would have possibly seen many men with his ideals. He built an empire that very few men could build and sustain, even if it was based on partisianism, divide and rule policy and cashing on the frustration native Mumbai dwellers had against the burgeoning population of the city without any proper amenities.

I searched for hours for the man’s contribution to society. A man of his stature obviously had something to contribute. The most I came across was his role as a godfather, solving disputes that Courts would have taken years to solve. There were many men who admired him for that alone. The fairness of these judgements are not for us comment upon.

But it remained surprising to see so many eulogies about Mr. Thackeray, particularly from eminent personalities. A closer look, however, revealed that this was mere good business sense.

Many Bollywood and other people from the movie industry had close ties to him. He was a necessity for them, perhaps. You cannot take on the “Emperor of Mumbai” and live in peace and make a living there, at that level.

There are conflicting pictures of the man. As Vir Sanghvi quoted in his blog on HT, anyone reading about the man after his death would think they were reading about someone else. But even in life, he was quoted as being warm, generous, unassuming, hard lined, cynical and all those other adjectives.

The only person who said he could pay a tribute to Bal Thackeray was the Chairman of the Press Council of India and a former judge in the Supreme Court of India. He said much of what I was thinking in this article in The Hindu.

Mr. Thackeray, to me, was a man who advocated the ‘purity’ formula, like his idol Adolf Hitler. Shiv Sena in my memory has been an organization that creates trouble… vandalizing stores, going on rampages against anything Western that caught their attention. Which was a little hypocritical as their leader was known to enjoy finer alcoholic beverages and cigars manufactured in these very nations they were protesting against.

But with a case study like this, why as a 21-year old girl arrested for updating her status message on Facebook, lamenting about the bandh on the day of his death? And her friend for liking that message.

The status message was considered unlawful and she was arrested under Section 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) and according to some news reports, under  Section 295 (a) of the IPC (for hurting religious sentiments) and Section 64 (a) of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Her act was no more disruptive than the antics of Shiv Sena and many comments that Mr. Thackeray has made. If Mr. Thackeray was given the benefit of freedom of speech, why not another Indian citizen?

I worry, even as I write this post, about the ramifications of posting it. Will I hear cops knocking on my door once this is out? Should I keep my bail money ready? Or would the readers realise that this is not an anti-Indian rant, or even against Mr. Bal Thackeray.

This is merely wondering what differentiates one Indian citizen from another.

The Sacred Gandhi

It started with the discovery of a new site that lists the best prices of all the online book stores. Which led to searching of random books and laughing at the prices. Till I decided to look for one of the controversial books – the biography of Indira Gandhi.

This was a book I had looked for in all the local bookstores and they all said they didn’t stock it. Now, it was never clear to me if this book was banned officially or unofficially. But the story remained that it was tough to find on the Indian shores.

A Google search of the book, however, showed that there was another biography of the daughter in law. This one, The Red Sari, was written by a Spanish author and was is originally titled ‘El Saro Rojo’.

Released in 2010 or thereabouts, Sonia Gandhi, I’m told was fighting a legal battle to prevent the book from being released. It was touted by the Congress party was ‘fictionalized biography’ (not sure what that means) and most of the articles I could find online, which were very few, quoted only ONE line as their defence.

“She suddenly thought of fleeing this country that devours its children” is the line that is quoted, referring to Sonia Gandhi’s reaction after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. If that is the worst this book could state about Sonia Gandhi, I’m quite sure Congress wouldn’t have to worry much. But given the fact that there is barely any mention of the book post 2010, nor copies available easily (the Spanish translation is available somewhere), it does make me curious about what Mrs. Gandhi does not want the public to know.

She does have her right to privacy, but as a public figure, there are certain aspects of her life, like her citizenship that should be public knowledge. If she does want to rule us, from even behind the scene, the least she can start with is being legally Indian.

Many readers of this post would perhaps ask why this anti-Congress spree. As I’ve often said, I’m not anti-Congress or BJP, I just hate politics with religion. And I’ve become wiser in the past few months that no party is better off.

And of course, the scams, the controversies and the fact that Manmohan Singh just sold out our country to America’s biggest retail chain.

But the question I’m asking here remains simple. What happened to The Red Sari? Will it ever be available for readers here?

I know the Indian Constitution allows to ban books and other relevant  materials if it is inflammatory. But what could possibly be the rationale behind banning of a book?\

Maybe the people currently fuming over this post and putting this blog on the ‘to be watched’ list have some answers?

Diwali

Its Diwali. Or Deepavali.

Festival of lights, sweets, crackers, noise and pollution.

Remember when you were 10 years old and nobody even talked about that word ‘pollution’. Everyone knew there was a little more smoke, but we lived with it. We weren’t green, I guess, or too green, depending on the context of the word.

Of course, the only crackers we could afford were small ‘bijli’ ones… came packed in a soap-powder like packet and we could while away the entire day lighting each one, trying to find innovative places to light it up in… coconut shells, post boxes, bottles… and whatever else caught our eye and escaped the adult eye.

The long chains signified the end of the day’s cracker-bursting process. We would wait for it, savor it… because the longest I could ever afford was 1000 crackers long.

You probably won’t get this if you didn’t live with it.

The locality would get quiet by 10 PM. Nobody really had the money to burn more. And we wanted to make it last as long as possible, plus save a few extra ones for the days India won cricket matches against Pakistan.

When did that change? Was it globalization? Was that when everyone could afford several strings of cracker chains? Was that when cracker makers started getting more innovative, coming up with double and triple bursts, louder bombs and crazier things?

The hydrogen bomb was the loudest cracker I ever had. I hated the sound but there was something sadistically compelling about it. My dog hated it. The babies hated it. And once I was done bursting them, I hated it too. But we still used it.

The past few years I so rarely hear the gentle pop of the bijli. Nor do I hear the matap. I do not see kids huddled over a piece of paper, collecting the left over gunpowder from the ones that did not fire, trying to make their own little version of a cracker.

Sure, these things are dangerous. People have lost various body parts to such experiments. But when you are 10, you do not think about what limb you could lose. You only think about how high you can blow that damn thing. And older cousins are always there as ‘chaperons’.

As dangerous and polluting it was, I enjoyed those times of Diwali. It was about hordes of cousins, sneaking out sweets from the kitchen and doing the craziest possible thing with the few crackers you had. I look at the excitement out of my window today and it is all about largesse… how many crackers do you have, how long is the string, how fancy is it…

I’m sure this generation will have their share of memories too… But I wonder how many generations ahead will get to see the joy of lighting a firecracker… Our current largesse will cost the environment and the future generation of such simple joys.