Saturday, January 20, 2018

14th February 2016, Aurora hall, Calgary

From the winter window
melting with human heat
in a strange city brimming with nameless life
I watch two people ensconced wearing each other's bodies 
like warm cardigans, twining their fingers like knitting needles
It's the festival of love, as love can be seen
plastered on walls of restaurants,
malls and the community hall in pink
sealing the deal in sales 
or doled as discounts.

While in this part of my weary world, 
these two speak to a civilization
Torn by bombs, fractured by barbed wires
My lonely eyes capture the postcard greeting they give to the world
On a moonless night lit by silent street lamps.
Sipping slowly from my favourite mug with a happy picture
He gave on one such Valentine's day

I wonder,
Why do photos save moments
that will be forgotten?
As tears trickle down my face
I realize that I now prefer my coffee salted
as my tongue gets used to the taste of 
wet memories.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Thinking about a domestic violence victim in the neighbourhood

In the last two years since we shifted to this new neighbourhood, I have not seen much of her. But whenever I do, I see her running around her children. Three boys and one girl. 

She is rotund and short and always wears salwar kameez with the dupatta covering her chest. She doesn't talk much to the neighbours except for a few people who are her friends. Once in a fortnight, she organizes a chatty kitty party in one of the caged homes in the neighbourhood. 

I always used to think that she was happy and might not have seen too much turmoil. Her husband is a construction business owner with investments in trades of other kinds, that most people in the vicinity have no inkling about. 

In big flashy neighbourhoods of South Delhi, people guard their privacy with a watchdog's vigilance. They have learned to wash their dirty laundry inside their homes. A secret is like a piece of sweetmeat buried safely in the insides of their mouth. Since I have been traversing around the country for my project and conferences, I have rarely lived in this new neighbourhood that we shifted to, two years ago.

Three months ago, I had to catch a late night flight from Kochi after I had thrown up twice with a nasty headache that was refusing to leave me alone. Since then I have been on medication and not allowed to move around much, until the call of duty beckons. On most of the days my parents are around after recently retiring, but they do enjoy and indulge in socializing now and then.
One such evening when mom and dad were away, attending a post-wedding reception at a godforsaken place, away from home, I happened to have a chat with our maid. Mom had instructed her to make the dinner for me, and in the midst of dishing out my favourite delicacy she disclosed a clandestine secret that shook the earth beneath my feet.

All was not well in the house of this next door neighbour of ours, who threw lavish kitty parties for her friends and always made it a point to bring us a big box of sweets on diwali. The mask she was wearing never gave away signs of anything being amiss. 
On earlier occasions twice, I had seen discernible bruises on her arms. Once during a casual chat with her I had even ended up asking about the huge gash on her neck. She quickly hid it with her blue duppatta and told me that she had accidentally been injured by her voluptuous necklace. I had since then struggled to believe her version of the story.
The maid's startling claims had put an end to my doubts.
She was a domestic abuse victim who was silently experiencing the hardship to not let her marriage crumble. Our maid also told me that her husband had another wife with whom he had sired two children. Behind the institution of marriage, many men have covertly fed on sensual gratification by leeching on the bodies of their legally wedded wives. This man has acted against the Hindu marriage act, by marrying two women, and although it's a famous secret, it has been silently brushed under the carpet.
Yes, marital rape is a reality. It happens in our neighbourhood and we quietly turn a blind eye to it. In India, you can't talk to a marital rape victim, because she will preserve her secret like an undercover cop, which is why most people mind their own business. She has her own reasons of doing it, but most of the times it's the fear of being ostracized by a society and the lack of a safe place to lead her life, if she were to walk out of her marriage.
The dreaded details revealed that her husband was a sadist and alcoholic who found pitiless pleasure in inflicting wounds on the body of this mother of four children, who had found respite in the garish luxurious parties she loved to throw.
In the lavish neighbourhood cloistered by cemented buildings and trendy cars, I realized there were stinking secrets entombed in the walls concealed by giant towering doors that will never let the sobs of this woman escape. Some marriages are merely a legal contract and the wife is a helpless sufferer whose day begins with a fake smile to fool the world and ends with a loud thrash that leaves behind another scar to keep count of the suffering she endears.

According to the last exhaustive family survey done by the government, more than 54% of men and 51% of women said it was okay for a man to beat his wife if she disrespected her in-laws, neglected her home or children, or even over something as trivial as putting less - or more - salt in the food.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Why should you watch Lipstick under my Burkha?

I usually don't make advance bookings for a movie, but this one was tempting. The kick-ass poster might have attracted many like me, a middle finger salutation on a feminine movie poster is hard to resist. 
I saw a few men inside the theatre, some accompanying their wives and girlfriends, others on their own. Curiosity brought them there. Perhaps some were present in the cinema hall, to make fun of a woman director who decided to walk the talk, and show the mirror to patriarchy.

Cast: Ratna Pathak Shah
Konkona Sen Sharma
Ahana Kumra
Plabita Borthakur
Vikrant Massey
Sushant Singh Rajput

Director: Alankrita Shrivastava

Running time: 2 hours 12 minutes

The movie talks about the lives of four women who are neighbours, and living in a small town in India. To rebel is a way of life for them, and these big and small acts of mutiny where they stand up for themselves is the unique selling point in the movie. Each woman is standing at a threshold of life, that is distinctive from the situation of the other woman. For example there is the college goer Rehana who is a die-hard fan of Miley Cyrus and is struggling to shun the burkha that her parents have used to camouflage her body and her dreams that revolve around becoming a singer. Or the mother of three children Shireen, played by Konkona Sen Sharma who has swallowed the atrocities that her dominant and perverted husband unveils on her everyday, without uttering a word. Else, take the example of Leela who is trying to establish a new business with her muslim boyfriend, oblivious of her fiance of her mother who is trying to pay off the debts her father left them with after his death. Then there is buaji the matriarch, who is the co-owner of  an ancient building in the heart of the city and a sweet shop. She feeds her sexual fantasies by indulging in sleazy novels.  
Each character has to put up with a lot to breathe in their sacred space, yet their willingness to listen to the voice of  their soul makes them special.

Spoilers ahead
Scenes where Shireen is raped every night on bed, and at the drop of a hat she is forced to pop a pill to avoid pregnancy to her dominating husband throwing away the condom to have sex with her make you cringe. This is the story of thousands of women in India who silently accept marital rape as their fate.
Buaji's battle to suppress her sexual needs within the pages of sleazy novels makes you rethink about how we have ignored elderly women and their sexual desires and why they are forced to hide behind the mask of traditions and religion, in this case buaji being a regular at the satsangs.
Leela's struggle to keep her hopes of  setting up a business alive to the way she is shown being torn between her fiance and boyfriend is the portrayal of a young women of India trying to shun marriage and putting up a brave front to let their dreams of a career live. 
The young college goer Rehana has very few dialogues but manages to impress with her silent yet powerful expressions particularly the acts where she tries to don western outfits to the reality locking horns with her dreams of pursuing a singing career.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Examining the sexism in Indian politics

As the poll trumpets blew during the assembly elections in the five states of Goa, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Manipur,  we saw many sexist politicians come out of their hiding holes. I was rattled by an insensitive comment by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vinay Katiyar who said that Priyanka Gandhi was not as beautiful as she was projected to be and that there were prettier women leaders in BJP like Smriti Irani who could pull crowds and give better speeches.
This was not the first time that an Indian politician had passed sexist regressive remarks about a woman politician. I cannot help but wonder: How long it will be before a woman politician is given importance and her potential as a politician not measured by her looks?
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati has also been a popular target from politicians. Once, BJP spokesperson Shaina NC made a jibe on her, saying that she didn't know if the BSP leader was a "he" or "she" – attacking Mayawati's gender identity based on outdated and regressive stereotypes of what constitutes "womanliness", which Mayawati might not conform to. Mayawati doesn't wear saris or salwar kameez in feminine colours  and the way she wears her hair has made her a victim of comments like these that question her appearance.
On another occasion BJP leader Dayashankar Singh said that Mayawati is worse than a prostitute who gives a seat to the person who pays the highest amount for it. His comments toward the Dalit woman leader were not only sexist but also casteist. A metaphor comparing a woman to a sex worker is every sexist's glorifying moment of machismo – disrespecting not only the woman in question but also the dignity of sex workers. Patriarchy feeds on the notion that a sex worker is the lowliest among the low in the society, since they have sex with tens and hundreds of men to earn their bread and butter. Patriarchy is the school of thought that restricts a woman's sexual agency, and in this case it has been difficult for leaders like Dayashankar Singh to come to terms with the fact that sex work is like any other profession and there is nothing condemnable about it. The same man lashed out at Mayawati again a few months later where he likened her to a dog and called her a coward. He said that "Mayawati is like a dog that chases speeding cars on roads, but steps back as and when the vehicle stops." He later took back his statement, saying that he meant that "she called us dogs."

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dress codes and the stigma attached to it

An important lesson girls growing up in India are taught is to pull down the length of our skirts to lengthen them, for the fear and stigma attached to what we wear and how it can be provocative and attract the male gaze can make us appear scandalous and of questionable morals. 
I remember the carefree days as a young girl in India, when skirts and shorts hanging inside our closets didn't invite criticism from people. But, as our bodies started growing in size, covering it up became a necessity. 
My mother was never bothered about what I wear and did it in any way feed the sexual gaze of young boys or men. My favourite dress from childhood was a mini skirt resting below my thighs with white polka dots and golden buttons. The white shirt with ruffles and laces was the perfect match for this black skirt. Till this day, I vividly remember the colour and feel of the skirt and the top, and the memories it gave me. Another favourite piece of garment from my childhood was a yellow dress with huge flower motifs that made me look like a garden. It did grab a few eyeballs and people fed on unhealthy doses of patriarchy told me to not show off my hands, legs, shoulders or chest because girls from decent families should never show skin. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Consent means a clear yes, always!

Consent as defined by the Oxford dictionary 
as a noun
permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

as a verb
give permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.

In India a culture has been groomed that understands nothing about consent especially when it comes to sex or agreement for sex in a long term relationship. It thinks of consent as a male privilege, giving little or no importance to the signals of yes or no from a woman. Popular culture especially bollywood has done very little to topple the tables and redefine consent. A larger part of the problem is that real life gets transcended to reel life in popular culture, and the voices that are trying to redefine consent are buried under schools of thought nurtured on unhealthy doses of patriarchy and male entitlement.
Consent is necessary in a healthy relationship. This could mean a dating relationship, a marriage or a one-night-stand.
And, just because someone consents to something once, doesn't mean that they will agree to it again. Consent should be sought everytime, and that is the only way that a mutually agreeable relationship can be built.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Body Shaming: Fat and thin are socially constructed images

Your body is your business, especially it's size but one of the first sexist social constructs that was often slapped on us was being told that a thin woman is pretty. I grew up to this idea of a perfect body image and thought that flab was "unpretty" and would not get me boyfriends and a husband when I'd decide to take the plunge and make a family. Adulthood brought it's own dilemmas one of which was, that I started to grow fatter despite being a vegetarian and a runner.This trend of moving from fit to fat got me thinking, even though I had no ambitious fitness goals like the actors or sportspersons.

I started eating smaller portions of food and gulping down water like a fish but it didn't work in my favour. I have a very strange body type which of course I don't intend to liken with fruits. I have really heavy arms and it seems all the fat that stealthily gets under my skin finds a home around the arms. Initially I didn't pay heed to it and ignored all the warning bells. No one at home especially my parents ever bothered to tell me about it, nor did my best of friends. My arms started swelling and apparently one day a comment from a friend's friend got me thinking. His usage of sexist language was evident in the message he wanted to convey.