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I am sad today. My country is sad.

nilanjana s roy

That girl, the one without the name. The one just like us. The one whose battered body stood for all the anonymous women in this country whose rapes and deaths are a footnote in the left-hand column of the newspaper.

Sometimes, when we talk about the history of women in India, we speak in shorthand. The Mathura rape case. The Vishaka guidelines. The Bhanwari Devi case, the Suryanelli affair, the Soni Sori allegations, the business at Kunan Pushpora. Each of these, the names of women and places, mapping a geography of pain; unspeakable damage inflicted on women’s bodies, on the map of India, where you can, if you want, create a constantly updating map of violence against women.

For some, amnesia becomes a way of self-defence: there is only so much darkness you can swallow. They turn away from all the places that have become shorthand for violence beyond measure…

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Aside
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When I was around eleven or twelve, I was new to the experience of commuting via the public transport system. I had never traveled to the city alone by bus, and on the rare occasion that I did, it was usually with either or both of my elder sisters. One such occasion stands out unpleasantly in my memory. On the evening of the incident I’m about to narrate, I asked my sister if I could accompany her to the library in town. In those days, she would take a bus at around 5 o’ clock every other evening and return home when it was just starting to get dark. My sister agreed to let me come with her, and so, at a little after 5 o’clock, we set out to catch a bus to the city. When we got to the library, my sister returned the book she’d previously borrowed, paid the rental fee and selected another book to take home with her that evening. We then walked back to the bus stop.

Let me just slightly digress from the story at this point, and give you an idea of what I was like as a 11/12 year old girl. I hit puberty long before most girls in my class even understood what it really meant, and so I always felt awkward about my body. I used to be too tall, too chesty (which is hilarious, because now I complain endlessly about how I’m not chesty enough), and I had to start waxing much before the girls my age did. Looking back, this was all just a part of a “phase that every girl goes through”. But at the time, I was in a perpetual state of embarrassment about the way I looked. I hid behind sexless jeans and t-shirts. My gawky looks and the fact that I was in an all girls convent school made it pretty easy for boys to not notice me in, you know, that way. I think I would’ve been suspicious of the attention in any case.

So imagine my complete mortification when two boys on a scooter rode up to where my sister and I were sitting, waiting for our bus, and said, “Hey baby, what’s your name? Can I have your number?” They looked pretty uncouth (Isn’t using ‘hey, baby’ as an opening line evidence enough?), and I was immediately frightened by the way they leered at us. I’d heard about these things happening to people, but I had no idea what was to be done in a situation like this. I looked to my sister for help. She told me to ignore them. But they were only amused by that, and pressed on, saying things like, “Hey baby, can I have your number?” or “Why aren’t you talking to us, baby?” My sister was getting livid. She’s always had this instinct to protect, and I could tell it was all she could do to not slap them across the face. We tried moving away, but that didn’t work either. Finally, a bus came along. It wasn’t even a bus that took us all the way home, only three fourths the distance, but at that point all we wanted to do was get away from the creeps. We got on, and we were almost about to sigh in relief, when we noticed that the same guys were tailing our bus. They caught up to our window and started yelling lewd comments at us, much to our chagrin. They were laughing so hard I thought their heads would fall off. I hoped they would. By this point I was shaking with terror, and my sister was shaking with anger. It was starting to get dark, and  neither my sister nor I had a cell phone with us to contact our parents. My mind flashed back to all the awful stories I’d heard about the terrible things that happened to girls after dark. I’d heard about guys just like these, too. I think I was about to cry, but my sister assured me that she wouldn’t let anything happen to me, and in that moment, I believed her. Well, I guess the eve-teasers got tired of the chase after a while, because they finally left us alone, and my sister and I got home okay. But I was pretty freaked out after that, and something in my world had changed. I knew I looked much older than I actually was, but I never was afraid because of it. Until then, I’d never been aware of boys noticing me, and the way it happened for the first time, I wished they wouldn’t ever.

As I grew older, that incident just became one among the many instances where I had been harassed on account of being a girl travelling in the city by myself. On so many bus journeys home, while sitting on the outer seat, an older man standing, facing my seat has purposely rubbed his crotch up against my shoulder, or a man sitting next to me has crossed his hands over his chest and touched my breast on the sly. I could never really tell them off, or complain, because they’d make out as if it happened by accident, when the bus went over a particularly nasty pothole. I believe that accidents happen, yes. But no one’s hand/ crotch can possibly land in the same place ten times. After using the local buses to travel to my tuition classes and back for several years, I’ve become used to the occasional pervert having his way with young female commuters on the sly. What’s morbid is that these things happen often enough for people to “get used to them”, and shudder them off as “things that happen to everyone” because some Indian men do not know how to respect women enough to allow them to use the public transport system without apprehension or fear.

The recent gang- rape and mutilation of a young female commuter in Delhi that has created such a media hype, forces us to ask ourselves some very important questions as a nation, regarding the laws that protect citizens and punish the guilty, the current state of the local police all over the country (the supposed vigilantes of the people, the perpetrators of justice) and more crucially, the way we as an Indian society function. Stricter laws, capital punishment and policemen doing their jobs for a change  are all solutions to the problem, no doubt. But we will not see the eradication of crimes against women unless we change the way our society thinks. And for that, we need to change the way we as individuals think.

We need to stop blaming women for “provoking men with their indecent clothing”, we need to stop the hypocrisy of casting women in “Item numbers” acting like nothing less than strippers, falling all over the dashing hero, who has all the swag of a bloody prince, then being offended that the woman who sits next to you on the bus won’t react in the same way. We need to stop this whole portrayal of the “Indian woman” as someone who earns a cute little salary, has a cute little college degree, and of course we don’t mind if she has a couple of cute little “adventures” with her friends in her college days, but everyone knows that soon she’ll have to assume the role of someone’s dutiful wife, churn out the babies (and yes, she will be blamed if the child is defected in any way or gasp! turns out to be a girl) and do all the chores with a song on her lips and a prayer in her heart. And if anything untoward happens to her while she’s out in society, why, sweetheart, anyone wearing a dress with such a low neckline is only asking for trouble. And a nightclub is no place for a young woman, even if she’s only there because she loves to dance. Such dancing is too provocative for a lady of society. Really, you can’t expect the men not to behave so lewdly when you act so scandalously, dear. We need to stop saying things like, “men will be men” and we need to stop being OK with sexual harassment, even if it is of the relatively “mild” variety.

In a conservative society like India, coming to terms with your sexuality can be very difficult. It is especially difficult for girls, who have been conditioned to think that the very body parts that deem them women are something to be embarrassed about, that the pleasure of a man always comes before their own, and that masturbating is the biggest sacrilege that can be committed. I cannot even begin to imagine the repercussion that a victim of rape has to face, day in and day out, and how bad the emotional and psychological trauma is for her. Surely, it will be infinitely more difficult for her to see sex as an act of pleasure, or men as people and not monsters. And even if the victim does make a total recovery, what about the millions of women hearing about her story? Won’t they become more afraid of their sexuality and that of others? Won’t it affect the way look at all the men in their lives? It certainly will.

I’m not a feminist. At least, not society’s version of your typical feminist. I don’t believe in feminism without a cause either.  I don’t abhor acts of chivalry. I even think men sometimes need to feel like they have the upper hand; it’s good for their egos once in a while. But I will never, ever stay quiet when I know that someone is being treated unfairly because of their gender. And it just so happens that in India today, women are the mistreated sex. This needs to change. And now.

And if it takes a feminist’s voice to bring about that change, then I’m all for it.

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Back From The Obscure

A few of you guys have been asking me why I haven’t been writing, and I’ve probably said stuff like, “I’ve just been so busy of late!” or “It’s this school year, it’s killing me,” or “I love to procrastinate (this last one’s particularly my favorite because I love the word procrastinate)”. And this is all true. But I’m never too busy to write, and even though I am being drained of my creative energy much like a mortal is drained of their vitality by a soul-sucking Dementor, and I really do love to procrastinate, none of the above are truly the reasons behind my refusal to update my blog.

The truth is I’m depressed. I don’t know if it’s because of one thing or many things but this feeling is consuming me. I feel dull and unattractive and prospect-less and like a complete and utter failure. Writing used to give me a sense of accomplishment. It used to make me feel significant. It used to give me so much joy. But now I feel hollow inside. I honestly do believe there’s nothing I could write about that other people would enjoy reading because my life has become so monotonous that I can’t imagine wanting to read about it, let alone a bunch of people I may or may not know.

The world seems to have disappointed me, and I haven’t even seen a fraction of it yet!

I’ve often read and heard that it takes a great deal of courage to write something that is honest and good. And  lately I’ve been feeling like the biggest coward there was. But that is going to change. In fact, it’s changing as I type these words. I’ve decided to be honest about the facts: my life sucks (right now), and although in my misery there have been truly valuable lessons to be learnt, I would never, ever want to experience what I’m going through right now.

So, from now on I’m going to be honest and write what is true to me. It has been bothering me that I can no longer produce the same type of stuff I used to come up with before because I was so different then.  But even writers grow into another version of themselves and I suppose as they grow, their writing grows.

I just hope you all still like it.

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A Woman Worth Remembering

As the young voice of the reader flooded the church, my mind was flooded with memories that her eulogy revived, and my eyes subsequently flooded with tears.

There was nothing poetic about the tragic way in which Ms. Lume died. It was horrifying. It was shocking. More than anything, I thought that her death was unnecessary. That a woman so kind and generous-hearted had to go in such a careless way seemed disrespectful to the memory of her wonderful life. For days since I received the news of her death, I’ve been getting flashbacks of the time I spent with her.

So, as I today have the words and the means to write them down, and as it is Women’s Day, and as Ms. Lume epitomized the perfect woman, this post is going to be a tribute to her and to all the other beautiful women, whom I never appreciate enough.

It was always taken for granted that if anyone needed help with their French, Ms. Lume’s  tuition classes were the place to go to. And so, in my last year at high school, when the pressure to increase my scores started weighing down on me and I began to need extra help with my school work, the decision to join her class seemed but natural. Everyone in Panjim knew that she was the best French teacher around.

My acquaintance with Ms. Lume was short. I don’t remember my first impression of her, but I do remember marveling at how neat and organized she was on my first day at her tuition class. She handed me a freshly photocopied French rulebook (which she’d compiled and typed out herself, I would later find out), and pointed me to the nearest available chair. She gave me some six excercises to complete within the hour and turned to the next student, chastising him in her no-nonsense voice and good-naturedly pulling his leg at the same time. This was characteristic of Ms. Lume.

It always fascinated me that she could keep track of all her students, as she had so many of them. She not only remembered their names and the work she’d covered with them in the previous class, but also knew what kind of mischief they were likely to be up to and who they liked to sit with in class. It sometimes annoyed me that when I walked in, she almost instinctively knew who I was going to sit with and directed me to an unoccupied table so that I could waste as little time as possible in conjugating as many verbs as possible. She understood her students very well, which is why it was nearly impossible to fool her.
At times I thought she was a little hard on me. On that first day, after I’d submitted my work for correction, she didn’t commend me for having done all that work in just under an hour, nor did she remark on the near accuracy of my answers. Instead, she just tick-marked each page and told me I ought to go through my mistakes in order to not commit them again. It was much later that I realized that she’d only push a student to do what she thought they were capable of doing, and that is the mark of a good teacher,

She devoted a lot of time to her students, and I don’t think any of us really appreciated that. She’d teach continuously from 3 till 7 in the evening, six days of the week. In addition to that, she took the time to type out worksheets for us. She often seemed quite harried, but she seemed to love teaching, and so we knew her occasional complaints were only half-hearted.

She would often sit by one of her students and chat with them for a while. Some of us would grumble about having to listen to her talk, but in truth, we quite enjoyed her stories.

She was also generous. I remember when it was her birthday; she offered all her students some snacks and drinks. The number of cards she received on that day was testament to the fact that she was loved by her students, by everyone who knew her.

Polished nails, clothes that matched, her pretty face lighting up when she laughed, the neat labels on all the folders in those Godrej cupboards that lined the wall, the little stickers on the cupboard doors, the tumbler of water and glasses thoughtfully placed on a table for her students, the holiday timetables she’d hand out to everyone at the beginning of the year, the shoe rack that greeted you when you climbed the stairs to her house: memories of a brief acquaintance with a wonderful lady.

I can almost imagine her shaking her head sadly at the sorry state of the world and launching into a small monologue on youth on motorcycles, if it had been someone else other than her.

The lives of the best women are not documented on film or on paper. They are documented through the eyes and ears of the people that surround them, the people they love, the people that love them and the people that observe them in society.

Ms. Lume was an exemplary woman, and her death seems so unfair. But in a way, it has highlighted her vibrant life more vividly and ensured that the story of it will remain etched in out minds and hearts forever.

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2011 in review

This is not only awesome, it’s also very encouraging to a lazy amateur like me.  Thank you, WordPress! I loved the fireworks! And the adorably presented stats!

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The One Week “Write About Whatever Challenge”

So the title is pretty much self explanatory. I am to write about anything and/ or everything in the multiverse. The idea is to see how random I can get without actually missing the point. The reason behind the challenge? My sister. I was whining to her the other day about how all I want to do is write. Really write. But I can’t, because I’ve been destined for greater things, it seems. Apparently saving people’s lives is less narcissistic a profession than shoving your ideas down their throats in a column in a magazine or newspaper. (However, it can be argued that statistically, the chances of having blood on your hands both literally and figuratively speaking, are marginally low when your career choice is journalism, as compared to medicine.  So yeah, lots of pros and cons to weigh.)

But I digress. The point is, as I was wallowing in self pity after beating myself up over my lack of assertiveness and the cojones to stand up for the things I really love to do, my sister provided the solution, simple and clear as day.

She said, “So write.”

I looked at her incredulously. It couldn’t be as simple as that. No, not after all these months of playing the confined rebel, the tortured artist, the unsung martyr of all wannabe-writers-who-get-steered-towards-the-more-science-related-profession-due-to-familial-pressure-and-etcetera. There had to be a catch.

Sensing my disbelief, she tried another way to convince me.

“I challenge you to write.”

My ears pricked up at the word ‘challenge’.

I love challenges. Challenges tend to be the perfect opportunity to prove people wrong, and nothing makes me happier than doing just that.

“Every day for a week to begin with,” she continued, and when I had neither rejected nor accepted her challenge in the next minute she played her trump card.

“I betcha you can’t do it anyway,” she said with a dismissive shrug, and proceeded to do whatever it was she’d been doing before I interrupted her.

I think there’s this saying, “You only know your true capacity to do something when your older sister who is constantly mocking your general inadequacy tells you that you can’t do it.”

No? There’s no such saying? Well then, I guess I’m just going to have to patent it now.

That’s when I gave in.

“Fine. I’ll do it,” I sighed, and this is why here I am, writing a post about writing.

Hah, it wasn’t intended to work out this neatly, but I technically just completed my criteria for Day 1 of the WAWC!

Pfft, it’s not called cheating, alright? I was asked to be random.

Expect another post tomorrow, non existent reader!

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Earth & Wind

She had ordinary features, but put together they formed a pleasant face. Her smile was friendly, mischievous. The kind that could light up anyone’s day, if only just for a moment. The first impression she had on most people was that of a friendly, bubbly personality. She came across as quick witted and sharp tongued. Childish, but you couldn’t help loving her for it. Although she was all these things, they weren’t all she were. She had her moods and no one could really figure them out. Her best friends just accepted that every now and then she was prone to a crying jag, a fit of uncontrollable rage or laughter or sometimes just deep, introspective silence. It was her moody nature that caused the turmoil within her. A battle with herself that she seemed to be losing and winning at the same time. Because of it, she couldn’t ever decide on anything, or form any fixed opinions on a particular subject. But because of it, she was also able to get along with just about everyone on the planet.

He never understood her moods but he watched them as they came and went, brightly colored and brilliantly hued, each different from the last. He picked up samples of each whenever he could, fascinated by what they taught him about her. He stowed them away in his heart, where he treasured them. Every day, as the colours grew more vibrant, they began spinning faster. The faster they spun, the deeper he fell into her world, until one day he realised that her world had become his too.

Although she seemed to exist in all the elements, it was air that she felt most at ease in. It gave her freedom to move about as she pleased, and live the way she wanted to, but as it wasn’t a binding force, her biggest fear was that one day she would drift away and no one would notice, not even her herself, until it was too late. She tried to control the direction of the path the winds were pulling her towards, but they didn’t like being told what to do and so, they tossed her around and pushed her onward with a greater force than before. She was lost, helpless, until she caught a glimpse of the earth below her. Solid greens and browns that were tough, but not hard. She felt a force tugging at her navel, stronger than that of the wind. It seemed to guide her firmly but gently toward the earth. As she floated downwards, a word crossed her mind that hadn’t been there in forever: Home.

He caught her silently in his arms and breathed a sigh of relief. He pressed his lips to her hair, marveling at these new feelings arising within him. Although he had led a good life and was extremely fond of the people who loved him the most, he’d never felt that he needed the companionship of anyone else to keep him truly happy. She made him believe in the crazy and whimsical because he knew that where she came from it was all real. He wanted her by his side forever, but he knew that if he kept her selfishly to himself, her beautiful smile that was his sun would be totally eclipsed. He needed to give her something to make her come back every now and then, so he held her hands in his and gently placed his lips over hers.

She tried to dodge him and fly away at first, terrified that if she let him she’d never be able to leave. But when she felt his lips mould themselves to hers, she felt a peace she’d never experienced before. She blinked and stared at him, amazement and wonder rendering her speechless. Looking into his eyes, she understood everything at once. She didn’t want to leave him now. Despite his strength and stolidity he needed taking care of. The wind had taught her to be independent and resilient, but he would fall prey to the slightest of illnesses and the false promises of peopled he trusted. She placed one hand round his neck while the other cradled his head, pressing herself closer to him as she deepened the kiss. Then she slowly let go of him and allowed the wind to lift her into the air, where she sailed away into the blue sky, until she was a mere speck of bright color. He watched her go, wondering why he hadn’t just kept his arms locked tightly around her waist to prevent her from leaving. Ever. After all, he was stronger than her.

Time flew by, but he never lost sight of that bright speck of brilliant light in the sky, his own personal sun. Sometimes the speck grew larger sometimes smaller, but he knew it’d always be there, visible to his eyes. You see, when he kissed her, he’d inexorably anchored her to him. She, in turn enjoyed the freedom without having to worry about ever getting lost again. As for taking care of him, she fretted and worried from afar, but she knew that anytime he needed her, all he had to do was kiss upon a star and she’d be there.

Colorful moods, skyloads of sunshine and all.