Manikarnika & the Silence Around It

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‘Main Rahun Ya Na Rahun, Bharat Ye Rehna Chahiye‘ becomes the defining song of the film Manikarnika. That should be reason enough for Tukde Tukde Liberals to avoid the film – they turn up their noses at the word Bharat. And rightly enough, Manikarnika’s release has been met with radio silence too. It’s not the usual script – normally one would expect someone like a Karan Johar at least to use the opportunity to grab a few headlines but not this time. Not at the time of Kangana’s directorial debut. This is a woman who has made it purely on her acting chops (ya… ya… everybody has a past) and a knack for ticking off some of the biggest names and decision-makers in the insufferably nepotistic confines of the Hindi film industry. Her weapon? Her personality and her truth. Also, her inability to stay quiet and do as told. She’s the veritable Manikarnika of the Hindi film industry. Perhaps this is why (and how) she took up the task of portraying The Rani of Jhansi, Laxmibai. Problem is, no liberal media has even started writing things like ’10 things you didn’t know about Rani Laxmibai’, ‘Manikarnika sets off a trend of biopics on women freedom fighters’… that is all now left to us guys, people like me who are branded as right-wingers in a total copy-cat move that’s as irrelevant as it is inaccurate, as far as ideological imports from the US go. Kangana is called crazy by people who know people who know her. They usually hint at her weird affair and legal fight against Hrithik Roshan… but Kangana has already made it pretty clear in one of her interviews that ‘normal’ she ain’t and can’t even hope to be – given all the challenges she had to overcome and the industry she belongs (sic) to. She’s upfront about it. It’s people like Karan Johar, Saif Ali Khan et al who have to jump through hoops to admit it’s daytime when it’s day. But the interesting thing is, Kangana reigns over hearts. She continues to make films, and notable ones at that. She is now a film director and she has done a good job with her debut. I’ll talk about Manikarnika the film, the way I saw it. The first 20 minutes are a strange drag. The research value is probably there but a Manikarnika in a velvet blouse stringing a bow to kill a wild cat is something too… well, far-fetched for me. CGI wild cat sucks. And Manikarnika seems to understand that. Kangana’s would-be husband, Maharaja Gangadhar Rao (played by Jishu Sengupta) who is an arts & culture exponent, opens with a dance sequence on a set that looks like borrowed from some mythological TV serial of today too is a bit of… a letdown. Having said that, the actors are fantastic, led by Kangana. Especially, Gangadhar Rao. If the screenplay wasn’t so good, I doubt I’d find it so easy to excuse below-par lighting & strange costumes. The film portrays Rani Laxmibai’s strengths really well – sword work is nifty. Action scenes left a lot on the table though. And then suddenly, around the interval, the whole look, treatment, performances, everything just changes for the better. I have a feeling that there’s a point where Kangana (& her team) took over. There’s a change (for the better) in camera angles, direction, even costumes & jewellery, everything looking a lot more authentic than before. And that changes carry the second half of the film well past the victory line. To note, the credits show a never-ending line-up of post-production agencies, reflecting the scale of challenges Kangana must have had to surmount in getting this film finished and released. It also indicates that the film probably struggled to get out, for reasons not known to us. Be that as it may, Kudos, Kangana! If you ever end up reading this, know that we do understand why industry acknowledgment won’t be coming for your film that has just crossed 50Cr collections in five days. Because, acknowledging your film would be to appreciate your success, that of the character you portrayed – Rani Laxmibai, and that of a nation that’s trying so hard to stay in one piece despite your fellow Bollywoodiyas’ tukde tukde disposition. They know that talking about you & your film would only drive more crowds to watch your film and they don’t want to risk it. Not in the current political climate. In this country, you smash Brahminical patriarchy by defending those who attack its inherently, organically secular nature toward monotheistic cults. Best moment of the film for me:  When Manikarnika’s father tells her she is to become the Queen of Jhansi, she says, “I may have been raised a Kshatriya, I don’t know how to be a Queen”. To which, her father replies: You love your Bharat. You’ll find a way. So here are a few historical facts about Rani Laxmibai that were quite faithfully portrayed in the film:  Her name was Manikarnika Tambe – Her father, Moropant Tambe and Mother, Bhagirathi Bai. Her father worked for the Peshwa of Bithoor. She learnt shooting, horsemanship, fencing, and Mallakhambe as a child. She was 14 when she got married to Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, who was some 25 years older. After becoming the Rani of Jhansi, she had formed and trained her own army of women, from her friends at the court. She lost her husband when she was 18. The Maharaja had, at the adoption ceremony of their son, which was also attended by a British officer, in his letter said that ‘his widow Laxmibai be given the government of Jhansi for lifetime’. She had strategised & led the occupation of Gwalior fort while the Scindias escaped to Agra. She died 29 years old. In the battlefield, fighting the British. This was after she had made them taste defeat twice earlier. British officer Hugh Rose said about the Rani that she was: personable, clever, and beautiful. And that she was ‘the most dangerous of all Indian leaders’. Rani Laxmibai was NOT the first such woman in the history of the great land of Bharat. The great queen Abbakka Chowta of Ullal was. She came to be known as Abhaya Rani as she successfully defended Ullal from the Portuguese for 40 years. This was some 300 years before Rani Laxmibai came to be. Now that’s a film waiting to be made, a story that’s waiting to be told to a generation that can’t see ‘why we don’t bin our space programme so that more kids can go to school’.

The Best a Man Can Get is Still Gillette

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I wake up to this Gillette ad, which has kicked up a much bigger storm than the Kardashian Pepsi commercial did more than a year ago. I guess that ad was the start of brands taking on the role of SJWs – Social Justice Warriors. SJW is by definition a derogatory term which means a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views. In a normal world there would be a few thumbs ups for this person but in reality, which is neither normal nor reasonable, the reasons for this are the fact that we have to hold SJWs responsible for having boundary issues. I digressed there. But that is the point. SJWs will stop at nothing. Such as pedophilia being termed as a condition rather than a pathetic scourge of the mankind. They want pedos to be included in the ‘queer’ category to be represented on the gay pride flag. Because, there is such a thing as a non-practising pedophile. So anyway, this is a small example of why SJWs don’t get a lot of respect. What happened then with the Gillette ad was a classic design problem I learnt about during a brief ‘knowledge-share’ session at my workplace – That when instructions are printed in a font that’s harder to read, the reader/user confuses that difficulty with the difficulty level of the task itself. Apparently, Ikea knows this. So thank you Ikea. My male friend had no problem assembling that beige double bed. Moving on to males. They’re exploding the dislike button on Gillette’s YouTube link. Here it is again in case you’d like to have a go at it too. They’re doing so just for suggesting that they are better than the toxic messages they receive from the likes of: Harvey Weinstein Donald Trump Charlie Harper Woody Allen Ramsay Bolton Karl Marx Don Draper Hitler Frank Underwood O J Simpson Aurangzeb John Eric Armstrong (Know more here ) Jack The Ripper List of all the men outed under the Metoo movement.  Does not include the stalwarts back in India. Top names though: Alok Nath. Rajkumar Hirani. Vinod Dua. M J Akbar. All renowned ones. Saddam Hussein Jordan Belfort Vladimir Lenin Pol Pot Genghis Khan Geobbels Che Guevara Robert Mugabe (Let me throw in THIS  link detailing the respective rules of these powerful men from Africa) Know that some of these characters are fictional but most are not. I trust you to know which is which. But I can tell you this: we haven’t even got started. The men who’ve gotten all riled up with this one ad that is the only sliver of good parenting they have / ever will receive, are the ones for whom this ad was made in the first place. It talks about not waking up to a world where bullying is justified with ‘boys will be boys’. And God knows it’s the males who are the worst sufferers of it. Instead of saying “yeah, we do have a problem; glad someone is speaking out”, they’re swearing off of all P&G products. Good going. Yes, a brand’s job is to sell. And trust me, sell they will. Gillette has moved on. It’s talking to my 25-year-old brother who knows that if his dad shouted at him, that’d be wrong. My 50-plus ‘Millennial at heart’ friend who hates boys night out where they crack sexist jokes all night long. My friend & ex-colleague whose husband is a hands-on dad who cooks like it’s his duty as much as hers. Did you know that brands were acting as SJWs when they asked you to wash your hands 4 times a day, for 30 seconds each time? That you needed to wear a deo. That you need to floss your teeth. Brush it twice a day. They you need to get your vitamins. That you need to safeguard your heart health with MUFA-PUFA loaded oils. That you need life insurance for your families.   Well, dear men, you need to give up bullying for a healthy society.  

Have you ever eaten off plates made of pure lead?

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Oh-kay, I spent yesterday at one of the fanciest 5-star hotels in Mumbai – Taj Lands End. Attending the Content Marketing Summit & Awards, hosted by the World Marketing Congress, a super busy event that’s a great place to meet with the top professionals in marketing. Last week, I was at the Digital Leadership Summit organised by Social Beat. At the St.Regis, Mumbai, super swank. Loves these places. Last month it was TechSparks 2018 at the Taj Yeshwantpur in Bengaluru. And this is not me showing off. I’m actually talking about something completely different here. You’ll see why I am mentioning all these grand old daddies of luxury living. Not name-dropping. Because, these luxury hospitality brands clearly fail – astoundingly – at both luxury & hospitality in one very important regard that interferes with one of the loves of my life: Food. In fact, the experience I went through yesterday makes me want to reinvent the term ‘arm exercises’. It’s a one between me and my friend I shall refer to here as Mundu Cracko. Arm exercises refer to the ultra-best form of workout one gets from lifting beer mugs filled to the brim (heavier the better) right up from the table level to one’s lip and holding it there while consuming the much-needed refreshment, while making sure to give it as many reps as one can humanly make in the course of one session. Unlike all other kinds, this workout mixes dopamine with spirit, thereby creating a whole new level of motivation. It’s muscle isolation, it’s endurance, it’s mood uplifting, it’s socially engaging because you’d probably do this with your buddies, and the healthy competition to keep going adds to the magic. It’s a sorry state of affairs then that this beautiful connotation must be vacated for a more staid & serious, a more literal one that has neither its original flair nor the spirit. In fact, it falls flat like non-aerated beer. Did I hear your enthusiasm just fizzle out? Well, I’m a teetotaler and yet I know we can empathise with the lack of carbonation, which we know contributes wholly to the beer’s mouthfeel and its refreshing-ness. You can imagine my feelings when I see that my but one indulgence – food – is now condemned to become an arm exercise in the least pleasurable way possible! I’m talking about how these hi-fi places I’ve named above in a list that is by absolutely no means exhaustive, make it difficult for a nourishment-seeker to seek precisely what they need: nourishment. And, it’s not a gender equal world out there either. I’ll explain: I’m actually talking about how heavy the plates are that they use in these event buffets dinners and lunches. By the time I’ve scooped in some salad and collected some chapaati and moved on to daal, and subzi… I’m already a spent force. I’m handling a towel that was once a comforter somewhere, a spoon that is a miniature version of a mason’s or a gardener’s spade, and a fork that is only slightly lighter than a garden rake. Thank God for small mercies. Because, by the time I begin eating, it has turned into an exercise in negative calories – I’m spending way more calories than I am consuming while holding myself erect, walking around carrying the huge ceramic receptacle in which my nourishing morsels lay, embraced by the mason’s weapons. The food itself becomes bland, unimportant, secondary, not germane to the issue. It’s only the challenge that counts. Can I continue to ingest, and chew, and swallow when I am busy demonstrating the term ‘Herculean effort’? And for how long? In fact, it becomes a conversation starter with quite a few participants: “Here we are again… huh, huh :-)… yes, this is heavy… dunno what’ll happen if I add that shallot – will I buckle under? Haha” I even joked with a fellow male participant that the practice of feeding people at such galas seemed rather skewed towards favouring men, who have a denser muscle tone than us ladies. Turns out he wasn’t too thrilled about it himself – saying he’d probably last 1 chapaati more or two but in the end, had to give up his right to nourishment. So well, I really wonder if you’ve wondered this too: Why do swanky places host stand-up buffets and then give us these plates made of pure lead to eat in?  Any hospitality folks out here who can help me out? What do you guys really want us to do? Not eat? Anyway, I doubt if you’re gonna get me to do a few more push-ups every day, stretch the zer0 workout I’m on. I’m pretty sure I actually lost 400gms of weight yesterday even though I ladled my way through some pretty hefty paalak corn and paneer-something & something-veg-biryani. Compliments to the chef. None to the hotel industry.

Jab Rahul-ne Hug Diya

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So… Bhookamp came and went down with a Hug at this No Confidence Motion. The government had the support of 325 members while 126 voted against it. Which means that even as Shiv Sena sat it out, the fence-sitters and not just NDA allies, voted for the government, meaning that BJP continues to provide the country with stable leadership. Hardly a compliment when a once so-called “progressive” leader N Chandrababu Naidu, calls for a No Confidence Vote against a former ally and a Grand old party pitches in with apt buffoonery. It was a circus that Indian people like you and me pay for with our taxes. The exhibit was cheap, distasteful, and not the least because of the Congress scion’s wink, which was discussed more than how much the content of his speech was lacking in facts. The biggest problem though? Media. A bunch of dipshits that feast on cheap thrills not only rejecting all standards of civility and decorum for their own work and lives but also condemning a society to their utter lack of these. Speaking of Rahul’s craptastic speech: at one point he asked Narendra Modi to literally PUT his eye INTO his own (yes, Rahul’s Hindi is that bad, his manners are even worse. He could have got this one right simply by watching 3 Bollywood movies). Well, it was described by BS thus: “The Congress chief delivered a stinging speech that riled BJP members and concluded it by walking across the well of the House to startle the PM with a hug” [ LINK Here ] Rahul’s speech was responded to in typical NaMo fashion, the highlights of which are captured well in this piece here by DNA. But, was it needed? This edit piece here by Bikram Vohra on FirstPost is totally on point. He too blames the media with words: If only the media were to treat this as the non-event that it was, the whole exercise would have been a lot more edifying. But ballooned into a sort of second coming, the country was held at intellectual ransom, with only the issue of Andhra Pradesh being given the chance of making some sense. Cannot but agree. Shockingly enough, Rahul has cheerleaders. Like all cheap Kanti Shah movie villains have sidekicks. The only problem is, this is 2018. Kanti Shah era is over. Media likes to pretend that Sacred Games doesn’t exist. The same FirstPost has this feature here that calls this fool’s speech “brilliant and revelatory”. And that’s only the beginning. It calls out Nirmala Sitharaman’s anger and mocks at her for seething at the lies RaGa peddled re: Rafale deal. In fact, it mocks the BJP for claiming to consider Rahul a joke and then taking his speech on the floor of the House too seriously. Well Ajaz Ashraf, Rahul stopped being a joke and morphed into a dangerous liar when he took his lies to the well of the House. If you felt any responsibility, you’d feel a little consternation maybe. Like I did when Modi made a show of puppet hands in his jibe against Rahul’s wink and the stupid “eye into my eye” comment. That kind of crap has no place in the affairs of governing a country. But I guess people like you enjoy operating your discourse at this level. That said, it is the media’s job to question and lampoon and eventually reject every piece of rhetoric they find that originates from a lie or seeks to divide people based on malicious intent. In a civilized democracy, that is. Clearly, you guys are not ready for that. Finally, the hug. Please watch it here again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6YhpRJkXUQ It’s not endearing. Nor dignified. Nor respectful. What I truly do not see here is a hug that could even be acceptable. It being invited or reciprocated is far out. I cannot believe that an adult would go inflict a hug on someone in this manner. You don’t just go out collapsing on people’s shoulders in what could be more plausibly some drug-addled bravado. You see he did it only because he knew he would be able to make a statement and that no one would stop him. Finally, he did it quite simply because he can. You know who else behaves so despicably? Roadside romeos. This is not a joke. I’m glad Madam Speaker Sumitra Mahajan scolded him but as a citizen, I’d like to see action taken against him as well as those members of the House who did disrupt the proceedings in any manner at all. Finally, unrivalled is this piece published by The Hindu here that says “The Opposition always knew what the outcome of the no-confidence vote would be, but it did not want to lose an opportunity to make a few political points against the BJP and the Modi government.” It quotes Randeep Surjewala and Shashi Tharoor calling Rahul’s speech a “game-changer”. I’m surprised that Tharoor passed up a golden opportunity to add to the collective vocabulary of us Indians. As for the statement at hand, that the opposition always knew what the outcome would be, it is horribly callous on the part of India’s longest ruling party to support this vote that disrupted the normal functioning of the House, created chaos, and cost taxpayer money. The chief freeloader used the time & money to exhibit third class buffoonery that had to be rubbished by a foreign head of state’s office. Never before – with the exception of the Emergency – has the Indian democracy looked so helplessly spaced out. But. There’s a theory that requires no positing. The Opposition didn’t do this only to show off Rahul’s coming of age – for that is something he’s been busy doing as long as anyone can remember. Besides, Rahul has no choice but to come of age and for his leaders to stand erect and salute him for it: kind of like their ‘Emergency’. The opposition led this charade to map out the actual strength in their favour from 2019 point of view. It’s irresponsible. It’s sinister. It’s dirty. And it shows the depths to which these people are willing to stoop.

Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety is the tale of the eternal bromance

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‘When I see a fool, I want to make him part with his money,’ said a really shrewd guy once. It could very well have been Luv Ranjan. Coming from this paragon of warriors for male justice, whose Pyar ka Punchnama part 1 & 2 addressed the evil that is the modern, independent woman, Luv’s latest is the second film of the year to cross Rs.100 crore in box office collections, after Padmavat. Congratulations are due. A cool 400 bucks of that 100 crore is mine; not counting the junk I had to eat to feel alive. I feel like a fool, but I had to find out what was making this film tick. And this is what I found. With Luv Ranjan’s SKTKS, He’s taken the Indian male’s fight to the home turf. No more girlfriends, no more bitches. For Luv if ‘Pyaar ka Punchnama‘ was about ‘bros before Hoes’, Sonu-Titu is about ‘bros before bhabhis‘. So just for fun, I’m gonna call this atrocity of a film ‘Titu’s Balls’ because well, my blog, my rules! And besides, balls is what Titu truly lacks here even though it may not seem so. The fun part is I’m spared the trouble of going through the details of this film since all you suckers must have seen it already. If any of you do claim to ‘get it’, please help me understand what exactly was wrong with Sweety. The mystery actually boggles my mind and I reckon Titu’s Balls Returns is inevitable. Strangely enough, the misogyny in this film creeps up on you, quietly, from amidst all the Panju glitter and show-shaa and swanky cars & modern interiors. It isn’t easily detectable. You see, Sonu wants to save his bro Titu, a man-child, no better term for him, from this woman called Piu. It’s another matter that he lets her ‘control’ him. Clearly, Titu has issues with setting boundaries. But Luv Ranjan, instead of showing that, decides that it’s better for Titu to be controlled by his bro rather than his girlfriend. And bro is such a gyaani who says breakup ko sex karke overcome karte hain rebound mein shaadi karke nahin. Clearly, bro is in control. So, imagine bro’s plight when Titu falls for his arranged match Sweety. Bro scuttles her plans to get close to her marital family, bro character assassinates her, bro investigates her… basically, anything to save a bro from the greasy, hairy arms of a mal-intentioned female who’s pretty, charming, works for an NGO, and wants to make a good wife. Bro hates it when Sweety decides that Titu, her would-be hubby, and she should start their new life by buying their own apartment in the name of both her MIL and grand MIL. Bro sees through the part where Sweety gets her house-help to work at Sonu-Titu’s place – bro’s hates eating healthy, clean surroundings, a neat closet. It’s clear, she’s plotting to gain control of their lives. But most of all, bro hates it when he can’t screw his weekend gals on the couch in his living room anymore. For bro, this is proof that Sweety is a bitch & he must save his bro from her. When nothing works to pull his bro away from Sweety, bro plans a bachelor’s party in Amsterdam and gets his bro away finally. Into the arms of none other than Piu. He flies her to Amsterdam and all three hang out together. Piu is no longer the monster who was eating his bro alive. He promises Piu that bro still has feelings for her and that he can see his bro marrying none but her. Bro thinks – better a stupid friend than a smart enemy. And bro’s right. In Luv Ranjan’s world, bro’s always right. Because, what’s a bro that takes out time for his woman, and family, instead of hanging out with his bro? What’s a bro that gets ‘serious’ about life and wants to ‘settle down’? What’s a bro that respects a woman’s feelings and loves them! What’s a bro that doesn’t party hard and fuck around? A freaking boring husband, that’s what he is. And when a bro becomes a freaking boring husband, bro will be left to pick up chicks at dance bars all alone. That can’t be fair. All for a woman! That seems too much freedom to sign away. Now, for bro, a woman who wants to look after her family after marriage is just a Ho. If she’s marrying a bro as rich as his bro, she’s a Ho. If she wants to host a religious ceremony before wedding, she’s a Ho. If she wants to send his bro a tiffin full of home-cooked meals to his work, she’s a Ho. If she welcomes bro’s ex-GF to her wedding, she’s a Ho. If she broke off her engagement with a bro because he tried to abuse her she’s a Ho. If she’s not a weekend ****sucker in scanty clothes and instead seeks to marry & settle down, she’s a Ho. And that’s the feeling that propelled this under 20-cr film to touch 100cr+ heights. Luv Ranjan is milking this formula and good luck to him. As for Hoes, you’re going to dance to the film’s amazing chart-busting numbers at the next shaadi you attend. comic relief >> Hypothetically speaking, a friend asked me, “what kind of people would enjoy watching this crap?” I hypothetically replied, “it’s your husband, honey”. Oh, and the ending? Sonu emotionally blackmails Titu. Titu leaves Sweety standing under the wedding mandap. Alone & crying. Sonu gets his revenge. Titu goes back to his bro. The exorcism comes through. Luv Ranjan makes crores. Because the Sonu’s n Titu’s of the world find this film almost cathartic. After all, there are Sweeties in everybody’s life and all these men wish they had a Sonu in their lives, who would have come riding a steed in shining armour, and swooped them away to live (&screw around) happily ever after in this eternal bromance that is life.

Humane technology and why good behaviour is a problem

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I am that age where mostly all my friends have a tiny tot or two, some older peers have teens. Absolutely every parent I know struggles with technology, or rather, how to prevent it from being: 1) misused 2) abusive – to health – both physical and mental, to relationships, studies / work And, a whole lot of times, it’s not just about the kids. For most people, it’s also about their spouses, and friends, and colleagues at work even. That’s why when I came across the Center for Humane Technology on the Net (http://humanetech.com/)  I was thrilled. Its foundational premise is that technology is hijacking our society. These people are the right ones to talk mainly because they have been on the business side of things – are ex-employees of tech companies that control our social media and other digital platforms on which we have come to rely almost completely for everything – connecting, network, business, shopping, entertainment, education, the list is growing. Tristan Harris, its co-founder and executive director, in his TED talk here How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day  is all about how to focus your attention on things you want to do rather than fritter it away to the deadly addictive calls of your apps, notifications, social networks, et al. He says tech could be transformative. It needs to work for the good of humans – our mental health, physical health, our children’s good, our societal good, and not act like a slot machine for these companies and their owners. He knows that to do this, our entire set of parameters need to change. Human good, quality connections, are the metrics that our tech should be designed for. Here’s why I think this won’t happen, at least not until people see the harmful effects of this inhumanely designed technology that is current – much like what happened with cigarettes and the smoking industry: As humans, our education system used to be the tech platform that these companies have become today. Our education system never really looked at any of these metrics either. Happiness, our ability to keep a steady head, our ability not to fall prey to addictions that are life-negating – be it alcohol, drugs, sex, media, substance abuse, even the bad habits of cribbing and negative thinking, depression, etc., our ability to develop our self-esteem… and all of these things that truly matter, did not find mention anywhere in our curricula. We measured our happiness and self-esteem in our achievements, which are usually about being better than others, our sense of style by the scale and variety of our addictions, our sense of well-being by the size of our homes and memberships to fancy clubs. We made things like depression, attention-deficit disorder, food disorders fashionable. This education system cannot create individuals who value their lives and the huge opportunity it represents, cannot value their time on this beautiful planet of ours. It’s the value system that needs a change, technology will follow. And, we haven’t reached that stage yet, much like smoking and global warming. That’s the difference between a life-affirming way of thinking and a life-negating way of thinking. Whatever actions you are doing today, are those life-affirming for yourself and for those around/close to you?  Or are they life-negating ones?  If the latter, please ask yourself why are you doing it even when you know this. Technology addiction should now be the least of your problems.

Fandry and the ‘meaningful’ cinema

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For quite some time now, Netflix had been nudging me to watch ‘Fandry‘, I guess based on my viewing history. I took the bait after Ratna Pathak Shah mentioned the film during a recent but rare interview on a news channel. Fandry, according to her, is one of the must-watch films coming out of meaningful Indian cinema. Fandry came out in 2014 and is the directorial debut of the now famous Nagraj Manjule, best known for his massive hit Sairat that released in 2016. Sairat has scored some important firsts: First Marathi film to gross Rs.100 crore worldwide. First Indian film to record in Hollywood – its soundtrack includes Western classical pieces recorded at the Sony Scoring Stage. The film’s music directors are a duo of brothers – Ajay and Atul Gogavale, who started their careers with dhol-tasha groups, used during the Ganesh Utsav, one of the most significant festivals in Maharashtra. These are grassroots men. Nagraj Manjule’s roots lie in the stories he tells on the screen, and this is obvious to anyone who watches Fandry and Sairat. An aggressive caste dialogue takes place throughout the narrative. There is love, and then there is despair. Manjule grew up in Jeur village in the Solapur district of Maharashtra. He always wanted to be a filmmaker. Success kissed him and now he lives a hallowed life. He is, truly, a self-made man who made it big with ‘meaningful cinema’. His kind of success is rare. This brings us to… Meaningful cinema. It has the gravitas, doesn’t it? With an extra grrr… in it. Meaningful. It smells different. Feels different. “I watch meaningful cinema,” there, no more questions; I have arrived. Today, this is the yesteryears’ equivalent of “I watch only Hollywood films”. Ask me –  I just watched Fandry and I think it was okay. I was fascinated, moved even, by the way the Sairat story ends. Versus all those hours spent watching films like Dabangg, and Singham, and Ready, or Andaz Apna Apna. This felt different. How different? Sairat is QSQT (Qayamat se qayamat tak) based on caste and not class. Fandry… Is Bobby gone bad, based on caste and not class or religion. Fans of this ‘meaningful’ cinema will probably outrage at the comparisons made. After all, Sairat wouldn’t be the same without the intense detailing of its characters – a spunky, multi-talented boy called Parshya and Archie, a girl who is courageous, outspoken, and unconventional – she rides an Enfield. Their love story appears far more ‘meaningful’ than QSQT ever could. Why? But think about this: In both Fandry and Sairat, the definition of ‘love’ is pretty thin. Boy sees girl. Boy keeps staring at her. Boy tries to talk to her. Boy looks for situations through which he can get noticed by the girl, or get close to her. Girl gives in. Girl is taken in by the fact that the boy has shown some daring by approaching her. For the boy, the line between machismo and stupidity is very thin. There are innumerable stories of this sort. In Fandry, Jambya the boy manages to talk to his Shalu only in his dreams, while in Sairat, things get a little more daring – there is an actual exchange before the girl decides she loves this audacious backward caste boy Parshya. Fandry’s Jambya is a schoolboy. Sairat’s Parshya is in college. Hardly the age when people try to find meaning. In QSQT, it’s the same thing. In Bobby, same again. In Hindi songs, love is often described as a malady, a madness, a condition where pain is the only constant. So does Jambya of Fandry in his letter to his beloved Shalu say: “I can give up anything for you, even my life.” Said every Indian romeo ever. Where is the meaning, pray tell? I found meaning in Salman’s ‘Ready’ where he says he’s looking for a girl who is strong, smart, and dependable. In ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ where a millionaire’s daughter falls in love with a guy who is a nobody, and despite being tricked by him. In ‘English Vinglish’, where just about every frame is superb, and it’s a mature pondering over the meaning of love. Who makes these distinctions for movie-goers? This is ‘meaningful’ and that is ‘popular’. And the twain shall never meet. If meaningful can become popular, as in the case of Sairat, so can the popular be meaningful, as in the case of Dil Chahta Hai, the ham scene in the end notwithstanding. And again, if a handful of people tell others this is meaningful and that isn’t, what’s it called other than elitism? Do these people understand that pure entertainment actually means a lot to a large chunk of people? Maybe when these people say meaning, they mean a movie set that is by far indistinguishable from what we see in real life. Lesser the escapism, greater the meaning. And meaning is good. The opposite, bad. Maybe that’s how Nagraj Manjule is such a powerful story-teller. Because, at times it so happens that those who live close to a broken system find it extremely difficult to stand away from it. Read here the story of Sunita Manjule, Nagraj Manjule’s ex-wife. If it is true what she says about her 15-year marriage, one will have no choice but wonder. Your search for meaning might end in one definitive answer: that the powerful exploit the weak. The context may change: class, caste, religion, gender, race. The story really doesn’t. The search for meaning, begins and ends in our subjective experience.    

Jaa Simran Jaa, Jee Ley Apni Zindagi

Jaa Simran Jaa, Jee Ley Apni Zindagi

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Praf, short for Praful Patel, is a 30 year old divorcee, living in Atlanta, US, only child of Gujarati parents who have owned a general store all their lives. She’s holding down a job as a housekeeping staff in a hotel. She not only has a past but a post-past as well – her ex-boyfriend happens to be her boss at the hotel. Praf wants to make money, create financial security for herself, a craft almost perfected by Gujjus in general, but Praf is different – her aims are the same but her means are not. Self-control is not her thing. This Gujju gal has the balls – or shall we say vagina – to take risks. Okay, playing Baccarat (without knowing anything about the game) just to pursue a guy you’ve spotted inside a Las Vegas casino cannot be called guts. But then, the Gujju gal doesn’t even have the $25 she needs to enter the game at the table. Our lady does a James Bond, like it or not. She also gets the guy. That’s where all the trouble begins. The addiction to gambling, losing money, trouble. Wanting to win it all back but no money to stake. Trouble. Using up all her savings just to play a few more hands, no luck. Trouble. Losing all money, landing in the hands of a loan shark, Trouble. That’s what Praf is. She doesn’t hedge her bets, doesn’t listen to her parents, doesn’t settle down with a boy to make sev-tameta nu shaak for the rest of her life, no wisdom coming with age. Instead, she goes on to single-handedly rob a few banks to earn the nickname Lipstick Bandit. The character of Praful Patel is inspired by the story of the ‘Bombshell bandit’, Sandeep Kaur, who went on a 5-week long bank robbing spree because she was pushed to the brink to pay off loan sharks she had used to fuel her gambling addiction. One has to say, the story is interesting. Has it been executed well? Yes, mostly. Kangana is the queen of nuance. She’s as usual, great. The performances are good. The story has its dense details – a close-knit but unhappy family. A difficult, tension-filled father-daughter relationship. Sweet moments with the boy Praf’s parents are trying to set her up. All good. But the film lacks the aha moment – when you experience the character so strongly you identify with her emotions. ‘English Vinglish‘ was full of such moments, so was ‘Queen’, to name a few. They had a very strong screenplay. Also, Simran felt a tad bit longer than it absolutely needed to be. Now for the ham scenes: Luckily in the case of Simran, all the ham scenes happened outside of  and after the movie. I say luckily because otherwise, the film would have been that much longer and would have had to somehow feature Barkha Dutt and Rajat Sharma. That was me popping the lighter vein. One thing though: In terms of matter and gravity, I daresay the ham scenes overshadowed the movie itself. Kangana is an unbelievably strong contender for the solid ‘hero’ crown and she doesn’t even need to earn it. She has proved she has a vagina, and her films are the least of it. And as far as item numbers go, why can’t they be more like the AIB video/song? In that sense, I’m rooting for every Praf, Tanu, Datto, and Rani that Kangana plays. Now for a miss: There was much talk of Kangana adding this ‘sexual’ ‘edge’ to her character. That Praf actually likes sex. I would have thought that puts her in the ‘human’ category but in the Indian film industry and the larger Indian society, this is what makes news. You can probably hear a dilliwali aunty (no offence meant to Dilli, Dilliwalas, and aunties – it’s the combination here) scoffing a “Haw!! This girl likes sex!” If you’re going to the hall thinking you’ll see some exciting moment there, say hello to disappointment. It’s a bit scene where Praf likes a guy, pursues him quite decently, I’d say ladylike manner but that would run afoul of the definition of ladylike. Ladylike and sex don’t mix. To be a lady, step 1: you shun your human nature for the divine. Anyway, Praf takes the guy to bed. No great shakes there, as you will find out. But, this ‘controversy’ is also why Simran is larger than life as a movie. It has set a lot of people talking. And some people squirming after being kneed in the nuts. That this sort of thing is one of the firsts in the industry is probably why I’d give kudos to Simran. Thank you Praf, for being there. And thank you Simran, for being there.  

Can we still be Friends?

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This post is dedicated to old school, classic friendships. Friends who call, care, and criticise; friends who share our real lives even in the hustlebustle of work and away from the busy lanes of #socialmedia. Friends who, no matter what your actual relationship with them – spouse, parent, sibling, colleague – make life pop out of the touchscreen. Because… Once upon a time, ‘Growing Up’ was a lot simpler. You kinda transitioned into a role, donned the mantle, and had trophies – family, kids, home, car – to show for it. You also dressed ‘adult’, you talked ‘boring’, you watched news while you ate. Your classic, old-school friends you grew up with, or your chaddi-buddies as we Indians say in Hinglish, took the backseat. You became friends by association with friends of your children’s friends at school. You worried about too many things other than yourself. When you met your chaddi-buddy, you stared at the other trying to look for traces of your old friend, wondering if they were doing the same. They are the ones you relied on when tragedy struck. They didn’t need to see your brave face. Above all else, you relied on them for understanding. You knew they understood your “growing up” needs and you understood theirs. They too were on a similar track, of course. They are your home away from home, like your parents’ furniture – dated and worn-out, but comfortable as hell.   This new age has changed that for us. For most of us now, it is one or two kids max – if at all that (there’s a growing tribe of Double Income No Kids); jobs are a necessity and we’re constantly knee-deep in our efforts to “keep up” at work, family life, social life, travel, personal goals, education. You want: More likes. More shares. More followers. More pay. More peace. To get fitter. Smarter. Better. To find more time. Find more opportunities (to make money, to network, to cut expenses…). It’s not easy. Not even with touch-screens or tablet computers. If anything, it has added one more layer to be screened when working out friendships.   As far as friendship goes, #socialmedia has changed its landscape. Facebook started out as a social media networking site by appropriating the term ‘friend’ when it conveyed a warm… fuzzy… feeling. Today, with nearly a third of the world’s population on it now, Facebook is a social media marketing behemoth. Facebook is now a destination of choice for advertisers, sellers, pollsters, newscasters, opinion-makers, lobbyists, artists, and… everyone wants to be friends here. Hey, it’s what friends do. You’re not alone if you don’t do your friend ‘things’ there anymore. Let’s face it, nowadays, there are friends and there are ‘Facebook Friends’ – you may have never even met some of these but they do ‘like’ your 5-year-old kid’s birthday party pics. They are important for ‘networking purposes’, and moreover, you like what they share. It’s marketing speak spread wide. Got too many friends to fit into a profile? Open a Page and try followers. Away from all the noise, however, classic friendships are back where they belong. On our speed dials, contact lists, phone calls, personal WhatsApp messages, travel trips, across the table under a cosy home. If there is a right way to do #socialmedia and #socialmediamarketing, there is a right way to do #friendships too. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Lipstick Under My Burkha

Lipstick Under My Burkha

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  I have to thank the current watchman of the Censor Board of Film Certification in India Pahlaj Nihalani for pointing me to the film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ (Lipstick henceforth) because otherwise, I might have avoided it. Just like me, I am sure a lot many women (and men) were egged on to watch this movie after the fact that Mr. Nihalani had previously refused to certify it because he found it ‘lady-oriented’ and that it had dared to portray women’s ‘fantasy above life’. When this controversy erupted, many memes emerged on social media, challenging Mr. Nihalani for using ‘lady-oriented’ as an explanation. After watching Lipstick last week, I want to ask him what led him to think it REALLY was ‘lady-oriented’? Was it Plabita Borthakur playing Rihanna Abidi, a typical college-going girl-next-door desperately struggling to fit in with the well-heeled ‘hep’ crowd? If so, I can’t even start counting the number of movies that have such characters. Or maybe it was Aahana Kumra playing Leela, and her muddled love life – engaged to be married to one and in love (and to Mr. Nihalani’s chagrin, a sexual relationship) with another. Sure, we have truly come a long way in our portrayal of sex scenes, gone are the days when you saw flower bulbs slowly siding up to occupy the frame. Or, if it was a low-budget movie, then the camera panned up to reveal a ceiling fan. Nowadays, sex is portrayed somewhat like it really is, busy, noisy, shabby, and often not pretty. Was that the issue here? I think not. For then, so many recent movies, just to name a few, Delhi Belly, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Ram Leela, etc. wouldn’t have had it easy. But they did. So it has to be something else. Could it be that Leela actually desired another man, and had no qualms about it? But then, I have to ask, what separates this Leela of Lipstick and that Leela of Ram Leela?  So no, it probably wasn’t that either. In any case, how is this lady-oriented? Both the Leelas were all about the men they loved. Extremely comfortable about stepping outside of their comfort zones and vocal about what they wanted. Now that could be a problem but the Sanskari Bollywood has moved on. Why not CBFC? Could it have been Konkona Sen Sharma’s Shireen Aslam – who has a secret life? Don’t get carried away. She is *just* a door-to-door saleswoman selling household novelties, nothing more nefarious than that. But, she must hide this from her Saudi-return husband who freely indulges his sexual peccadilloes – nice and plying with his girlfriend when outside and forcing himself upon his wife when at home. I wonder which part of Shireen’s story is ‘lady-oriented’ – A careerwoman in hiding? A woman trapped in a bad marriage? A victim of marital rape? Grimly enough, both have their precedents in Bollywood. Shireen’s lady-oriented life is all about fending off attacks from her husband – emotional, psychological, and sexual. Isn’t this the opposite of lady-oriented? Finally, could it be Ratna Pathak Shah’s Usha Parmar, a much older woman, a widow, known in the community simply as buaji? Buaji likes to be in charge of her business. She is a matriarch, and she has furtive desires. She usually explores these through her secret stash of books – a Hindi cousin of Mills & Boon, until she accidentally stumbles upon an object, a much younger man. She takes to projecting her desires on him. Know what? Maybe that’s the real problem. In our industry, only men are allowed to go after younger women. Like in Buddha hoga tera baap, shaukeen, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Cheeni Kum, right back to Baton Baton Mein, even  Pati, Patni, aur Woh, we can talk about love but only when men need it from younger women. All the old women should just giddy up for a session of bhajan-kirtan. Except when they are in the Barjatya genre of family films – Maine Pyar Kiya, DDLJ… have had such aunty characters shredded to comic relief, ridiculously tip-toeing after old men who are themselves sidekicks to the hero’s sidekicks. Usha Parmar isn’t that aunty. She’s different. She’s above Shireen, Leela, and Rihanna, who ultimately toe the line even with their minor acts of subversion thrown in the face of authority. It was only Usha who had picked up the books with her ‘Lipstick wale sapne‘, and later on the phone, got her hair dyed, slipped into a sleeveless blouse. She was the only woman in a group of four who had her ‘Lipstickwale Sapne‘. Maybe that’s why her fall was also the greatest. So, how is this film lady-oriented, really? All four women end up stepping out of bounds of tradition and societal restriction, all four women get punished for their transgressions. Heck, this film is so lady-oriented, not one single frame could pass the Bechdel Test. It is all about the men, actually. And mostly, the kind you don’t want to see. It’s not lady-oriented, silly.

MIL demystified or Prejudices demystified?.. To Sadhguru

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I love Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. You know how some mundane happenings turn into significant memories despite being totally mundane and insignificant at the time they take place. For me that’s how Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s name became a significant imprint in my mind some 20 years ago – I still remember reading for the first time, his contribution under ‘The Speaking Tree’ column in The Times of India. Then, Sadhguru wasn’t as big a name as he is now. He was known as a maverick of a spiritual guru. Nor was The Speaking Tree the book-worthy column it is now. I guess I can say that we go a long way back… of course, he doesn’t know it. 🙂 I feel that connection with him. Or is it with what he says? I don’t know. Sadhguru says an awesome amount of awesome things – I have watched and re-watched all of his videos available in the public domain. Except sometimes, when I end up questioning certain things. I notice that the last time I did this it was on the same subject. About him saying how certain occult energies around certain temples are not conducive to the presence of women – things nobody can prove; I’d just have to assume that if Sadhguru says it, it must be right. That’s when I see a milestone flashing neon: Next stop, Belief. I don’t have a problem with journeying this land. It’s just that when I’m in this territory, I bring an extra towel of kindness for comfort, a rappelling rope for a swift exit, a pocket knife of critical thinking, extra food for thought and survival as also a gift of appreciation and acceptance if my stay here is successful and I find my idol. So now, it’s about this latest blog post, ‘Mother-in-Law Demystified’, the blurb saying that ‘Sadhguru demystifies the mother-in-law, enumerating various biological and psychological factors at play’. And trust me. That’s what a lot of young women in our society want perhaps – for the mother-in-law psyche to be demystified, decoded, deconstructed… de-EVERYTHING-ed. As I read these from Sadhguru’s words… ‘Unfortunately, the same stupid problems have been going on for centuries, endlessly’ I perhaps sense the gracious and charismatic mystic’s rare but genuine flicker of frustration; I would be surprised if it weren’t coming from experience, one way or another. It begins thus: “About satisfying the mother – when you say a mother, essentially she is a woman. Then she became a mother. When you say a wife, essentially she is a woman, then she became a wife. It is a secondary role. Her basic identity is that of being a woman. The next identity is maybe a wife and the next is a mother. It comes in that order.” Yes. Woman. Biologically, that’s a concrete fact. Wife, mother, are roles, yes. Then follows an anecdote about how a man who wanted to marry a girl from work, sets a challenge for his mother by inviting three of his women colleagues home, along with ‘his girl’, and not telling her mother who that would be. When he asked his mom whether she had made her out from among their guests, she got it right because, she said, “The moment she walked in, I didn’t like her. So it must be her.” According to Sadhguru, our MILs are biologically inclined to reject any other female coming into what she sees as “her space” as that would mean she is required to “share someone who belonged to you in an unequal proportion”, and the situation is compounded by the realisation that this sharing would also be of “unequal proportions”. He elucidates, “A mother wants her son to get married and be happy. But on another level, a mother is still a woman. You have to seek permission to share something that belonged to you. That makes things a little difficult.” (I would think having a big fat Indian wedding would serve as a granting of this permission of sorts or maybe we should add this one rite too. Unlike what happens in the West, where the man seeks permission from the bride’s father. Eitherway, to require your adult child to ask your permission to live with his chosen partner beats me.) Moving on, the entire focus seems to be on biology. Everything they do in the relationship sphere boils down to that hormonal hi-and-lo of either getting pregnant or getting your period. I wonder if his explanations for what every man does as a part of being a husband, father, etc, would similarly and equally boil down to that “little man” and his wonders. If they would, I haven’t yet come across something like it. Sadhguru further explains his stress on biology in order to explain the typical MIL psyche: “It is somewhat biological because it is all a process of procreation and protection. If a woman is not possessive about what belongs to her, she would not have taken care of her children. She would have just delivered them and walked away. It is biological, and that extends itself throughout life in some way or the other. However, if one is mature and aware, one can grow out of it. Now, I understand procreation and protection. I understand that possessiveness a mother feels for her child. If she didn’t have these feelings, thanks to the overwhelming chemical soup that our bodies are, she probably wouldn’t nurture her children so well. So yes, this ‘nurturing’ or maternal instinct is purely the result of this chemical soup of our biological reality. However, nowhere does this soup indicate a bias for the male child.     Why, when we speak of Mothers-In-Law, is it that it only describes those mothers who have had a male child and have trouble “sharing” him with another female? Sadhguru, are you trying to say that this is also biology? Is this a Freudian slip? Mothers are more than ready in our culture to “share” (the word may as well euphemistically include for foeticide, infanticide, dowry deaths, unhappy marriages bordering on slavery and abuse… et al) their female children. Why? Because in the end, she is a woman? Are you also saying that women have no recourse left in life but to toil their labours under the diktat of their ‘biology’?; that they remain these infantile beasts madly in love with their male children one way or another and have nothing better to do in terms of relationships other than mark their territory around their sons’ lives? Are you saying that you don’t see how our societies are centred around patriarchy, which is essentially about how our fathers, brothers, and husbands are just men? That men have always had an upper hand in this whole “business” of our society and how which gender is valued for what purpose. For now, though, I’d just be happy if you explained to me why do mothers-in-law claim their exclusive rights only to their children of a certain gender. Why don’t they have as big a problem “sharing” their daughters? I want to know if you’ll repeat one more time: Because she is a woman. This sentence throughout history has justified many a witch-hunt and inquisitions as it keeps justifying denials of democracy, right to drive, right to dress the way women want, right to education, vote, to become a political leader, CEO, and so on. I can’t un-know what you have said about women and how much they are ruled by their biology: that it is difficult for a woman to be a spiritual leader; that it is difficult for a woman to keep in step with the rhythm of the modern workplace, hinting at their monthly menstrual cycles. My two-bit: people who go out of their way to try to manipulate and control other people’s lives are sociopaths and those who employ abuse and violence to do this are psychopaths. This is neither about biology nor about gender. As for these traits in Indian parenting, a lot of this behaviour simply stems from the child’s inability to identify this abuse, due in part to being co-opted into this kind of upbringing, and their helplessness to doing something about it. Emotional blackmail is like the baby formula our kids grow up on, to face a complete diet of psychological intimidation and isolation, indoctrination, stretching to corporal punishment and serious psychological and verbal abuse in life. Truth is, yes, the same stupid problems have been going on for centuries, endlessly, but the reason for this is not ‘Because she is a woman’. For, nurturance means you contribute to the growth of physical, emotional, and social well-being of a child.Every animal lets their offspring become independent irrespective of gender; humans are no exception in this regard. And every mother tries to do this for her child in the way she knows. But, there is this thing about humans – our social concepts are centred on misogyny. Therefore, she knows very little about feeling secure, about educating herself and about self-development. Our misogyny makes us point at women even though it’s the men who are at fault. Your ‘because she is a woman’ just reminds me of how indelible this bias is.  

Of Ganga Maiya & the Whanganui

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The news of a New Zealand river being granted legal personhood by its Parliament was as widely shared in the #socialmedia as it was treated with a sense of subdued wonder. But, at least it wasn’t scoffed at. The river is called Whanganui. And it is now legally a PERSON – as in, it has the same rights as those of a New Zealand citizen. Apparently, this battle for Whanganui’s rights is 160 years old and New Zealand’s native people, the Maori, who fought it, sang the traditional waita folk song to celebrate this win. A personhood for Whanganui isn’t just about solving a legal tangle, it’s about identity, ecology, and human history above all else. It’s also about something else: Confluence of Maori heritage with ancient Hindu (Indian) heritage and cultural history. According to the article, the local Maori people have always recognized the Whanganui ― which they call Te Awa Tupua ― as “kin” and an “indivisible and living whole”. They view their own health as inextricably linked to the health of the river. There’s even a Maori saying that says: “I am the river and the river is me.” Indians still call the river Ganga, fashionably contorted in English as The Ganges, Ganga Maiya or Maa Ganga. Maiya and Maa both words mean ‘mother’. Ganga maiya also has very many mythological stories about her. She finds a mention in the Rig Veda, the oldest of ancient Indian scriptures. She is also the holiest, purest, and most sacred of India’s rivers. Ganga isn’t alone in her personhood and her divinity. She is joined in confluence by Yamuna and Saraswati, all three of whom merge into one another at the beautiful Triveni sangam (confluence of three rivers) at Prayag (meaning confluence, also a way of referring to Allahabad, a major city in Uttar Pradesh) in Allahabad. Whanganui’s personhood entitles her to ‘$80 million in damages as well as $30 million to improve the new “person’s” health and $1 million to set up a framework to represent the river’s interests’ (link to the HuffPost article). Her interests will now be represented in court by two guardians from the indigenous Maori community. While the modern New Zealand embraces its ancient culture despite its modernity, modern India has tried its utmost and continues to distance itself from that very culture that makes it great. As Indians, we need to keep in mind that when Ganga was Ganga maiya and not The Ganges, pollution and dams were not routine. That for us too ‘I am the river and the river is me’ was as true and pure as the life-giving powers of Ganga’s waters. But, all went downhill when Ganga Maiya became The Ganges, and commission after commission has failed to stem its decline into a highly polluted water body. If we want to become a modern country, we should do it on our own terms – by reclaiming our cultural identity. Our ancient cultures have survived because we learnt to live WITH our surrounding environment and ecology, rather than exploiting it. Whanganui’s legal personhood resurrects the need for this approach in our modern societies. Our emotional involvement with our environment is what makes us truly human, not the cutting off of it. Yes, we think rationally but our motivations have to come from a place of feeling and not logic. The sooner we realise this as Indians, the better it will be for our generations to come. Let us accept and embrace who we are as a people. Let others not guilt us into mocking our own cultural identity that made us valuable enough for them to come and ransack, loot, pillage, and rule us for control over what we had once built. Let’s join in the spirit of the Maori today…  

All Veg doesn’t mean fretting over protein

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Last week when I was watching ‘Dangal’ (great movie, by the way), I saw how the filmy Mahavir Singh Phogat played by Aamir Khan left no stone unturned to ensure his daughters, Geeta and Babita Kumari Phogat, got proper nutrition i.e. protein, after all they were training to become wrestlers. There’s a decent bit of spotlight on their mother’s staunch reluctance to allow the “chikken” into their home and hearth, leaving Mahavir to ask his nephew to build from a scratch a separate fireplace. As if that wasn’t enough, the nephew was also in charge of executing the recipe for chicken curry. The mother, ably played by Indian soap opera sensation Sakshi Tanwar, was left to look on in dismay as the daughters learnt to eat up chicken. I belong to that significantly large community of vegetarians in India and I connected with that part of the story, maybe because in the first week of 2017 on the very second day of my free weights workout of which I’ve had just three so far, my trainer told me to bulk up on proteins. “You’re veg. So you don’t get enough proteins.” That was the verdict after my tryst with free weights (the lightest ones on the row). So, back to the “chikken” scene in ‘Dangal’, I don’t know whether it truly happened in the lives of Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters, Geeta and Babita Kumari Phogat. And, while many who will choose to draw inspiration from this story of utter grit, belief, and valour, some part of it will go in the direction of adopting non-vegetarian food in order to achieve physical fitness. Well, as per latest research, that is hardly necessary, according to this article in www.Scroll.in that says You Don’t Have to Feast on Meat to Get your Protein. This story is amazing as well. It speaks of Melbourne’s Andrew Taylor, the Spud Fit guy who ate nothing but potatoes, yeah spuds for all of 2016. He is @spudfit on Facebook and his website is www.spudfit.com, which also has a blog in which he talks about food minimalism, on how junk is punishment, not a reward. In so many ways, spudfit seems like something that would give results totally opposite to being fit, since potatoes (and rice) are usually the first thing that people who are trying to lose weight and or getting fit rid their diets off. However, Andrew Taylor actually lost 53kgs over the year while eating only potatoes, usually mixing with nut or soya milk and at times a can of baked beans. It’s interesting how Taylor explains Spudfit challenge – it’s a challenge to get over your food addiction. Taylor, who describes self as a thinker, learner, wannabe athlete, and a plant-eater, probably did not have to worry about where he was going to get his proteins from. I’m a plant-eater too and have been all my life and this question often pops up. And many Indian youngsters today might be thinking, particularly after what they see in ‘Dangal’ that to be strong and fighting fit, the one thing they need to do is switch to non-vegetarian diets. That is the one thing that Taylor’s Spudfit debunks, supported by new research that says foods contain ‘Hidden Proteins’ that helps us make the recommended daily allowance (RDA). It’s something our mothers and grandmothers have known for long but we’ve chosen to ignore it. Note how Konkani and Maharashtrian diets prominently feature peanuts and sprouts, Punjabis eat paneer (cottage cheese) and dry fruits, South Indian food contains a lot of urad dal, fermented which also provide Vitamin B complex, and so on. In any case, nutrition studies are mostly done on Western populations and Indians require a lower calorie count, relatively speaking. Unless, of course, you’re training to be a wrestler, probably. Then you surely need a lot more protein. But, as far as the original post on the The Conversation by Jennie Jackson, a lecturer in human nutrition and dietitics says in How Much Protein Do You Really Need? that normally people would need 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. And this, apparently, is not hard to achieve even without the meat and poultry.

Taherians rejoice, 2017 is here

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It’s 365 minus 1 and it’s already too much to take. Taher Shah in 2017 Little did I know that while we were performing our annual ritual of playing his videos on the 31st night, Taher Shah, the master of love, humanity, and angels and of course music (of the Angel and Eye to Eye fame) had let spill some more of his creativity into this world. Sharing his message in the link above. Our Taher Shah ritual is a prelude to playing 80s and 90s Bollywood music late into the night as the old year gives way to the new. The exercise is reassuring in the sense that when you start a new year thus, it can’t really get worse. Something like when you break a glass vessel only to expect some chiding, scolding, and maybe shouting by mom and all she says is: “Oh, it’s glass that broke. Don’t worry, good things will happen now”. Ask her if you can go ahead and break more so best things can happen… Or don’t. So for me, Taher Shah’s albums fit into that category. Taher Shah’s latest is a cat video, with golden trees and leaves, the master sitting on a golden throne-like chair, cradling a white cat. His message, a reiteration of love, humanity, and angels i.e. Farishta… ‘She will certainly return your love, just make it angelic and see’. I only have one critique of his message, being inured to all things Taher Shah by now: the man-bun is actually nice. And am not missing the purple bathrobe either. Anyway, adding this to my playlist for 31st December 2017, Are We There Yet?

Shoaib Daniyal’s intellectual high horse

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In the manner of all open letters, here I am, responding to Shoaib Daniyal’s article Indian Conception of Nationalism Borrows Heavily from Religion published by Scroll.in. I’d start with asking Mr. Daniyal if he has read this superbly insightful book called ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. I wish he had; for he would have had no need to write his article, nor I, my response. I certainly do recommend reading The Sapiens and Harari’s latest, Homo Deus, which takes the subject a notch higher. Anyway, Harari says in Sapiens that “Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say, ‘Careful! A Lion!’ Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo Sapiens acquired the ability to say, ‘The Lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’ This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language.” In other words, religion exists only in human societies. Just like politics, arts, science, and even marketing :-). What makes all of these things possible is the human being’s ability to think and communicate in abstractions, go beyond what is here and now. It is a special ability and is unique to humans. Harari offers a detailed explanation of why such fictions had to exist: “Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to co-operate flexibly in large numbers.” Many creatures in the animal world are somewhat like us, they co-operate and work collectively: “Ants and bees work together in huge numbers but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives.” But, a Leftist-Marxist worker bee revolution against the Queen Bee i.e. monarchy isn’t going to come. Wolves and Chimpanzees co-operate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of other individuals they know intimately. A lone wolf is a dead wolf when it comes across another wolf pack and chimps won’t ever manage to dominate the world with just one command: Go forth and multiply. In this regard, particularly, Mr. Daniyal might like this line about ‘religion’ from Sapiens: “You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.” The difference between humans and other creatures is that humans can convince another human to take his own life by promising him future glory or an interesting afterlife. And as a result, the human race has been able to accomplish for itself much more than all the other species for themselves combined. Maybe Mr. Shoaib Daniyal doesn’t realize this but not just religions, all ideologies, all philosophies, all manners of schools of thought, even all cricket teams and football teams, all business organisations are pieces of fiction. Some are held together through cultural norms, some through legalities, most through both. Without creating these fictions, we cannot function well TOGETHER as a team, as co-workers, as citizens, as a society, as a culture; in fact, we can’t even do a Mexican wave across the stadium at a football match without a clear sense of a collective approach. Why should nationalism be any different? Think of the world as a playground. Think of nations as territories and think of people within them as teammates. All nations are teams and they do everything within their power to further the interests of their teams. While the piece of land is real, no doubt, the team is a fiction. What was once a fiction named the Indian sub-continent is now a collection of fictions called India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Some amount of national feeling will be needed if national integrity is to be guarded. Why do liberals find this so hard to understand? If they think themselves to be global citizens, why don’t they enact this fiction first by renouncing their passports? Mr. Daniyal, when he states that Indian nationalism borrows from religion, he thinks he is making an original observation. Clearly he isn’t. Mr. Daniyal seems concerned that ‘Indian nationalism often fuses the Hindu conception of a female Shakti deity to literally imagine a national goddess, Bharat Mata’.  Is it possible that he is ignorant of the existence of the idea of the ‘motherland’ in various other cultures? Or fatherland in case of Germany? He does start out correctly in mentioning the female Shakti deity and then disappoints with the suggestion that we Indians imagine our country as a national Goddess of sorts. Mr. Daniyal seems to have misunderstood his fellow Indians: We imagine Bharat Mata in the image of our own mothers, is that so hard to see? If so, why? Mata means mother. In fact, we Indians even imagine our female deities as mothers – Maa Durga, Maa Kaali, Maa Sita, and so on. For us, motherhood is divine and mother is divinity. Sadly though, for liberals, nothing is or can be sacred. For them, this is paganism. The very paganism that has allowed them to thrive in this beautiful culture without a hate campaign, persecution, or a genocide. Coming to the deity angle: If there is a deity angle here it is because in the Hindu culture, we are expected to revere our mothers as deities, for sure. Matrudevo Bhava, pitrudevo bhava… (Let your mother be respected as a devi, your father as a deva). Now, what is a deity? It’s a loose translation of the word Devas and Devis, which literally means ‘givers’: those who give. These are not mythical beings, not magical beings, and not mystical beings. These are ordinary beings who have risen to extraordinariness of stature due to their special talents, abilities, and efforts. It’d be safe to assume that most of us would agree that our parents do perform an extraordinary role in our lives. To explain further, in the Indian epics, Ram, Sita, Indra, etc. were all devas (devis). These deities all had mortal bodies and they had their imperfections, just like in Greek mythology. They were not Gods, that interpretation came about later. The concept of God, as in the all-pervading, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God of the Abrahamic tradition is totally and completely non-existent in the Hindu culture. Instead what is, is Brahma (cosmic consciousness or intelligence, known as creation in Abrahamic religions), which is related to the word Brahmand (The Universe, the physical manifestation of this cosmic intelligence), and the word Brahman (the knower, the intelligent one). Bharat Mata, therefore, if she is revered as a devi, becomes a cultural norm that is only to be expected in a land that has stuck to its 5,000 year old culture despite everything. How else would you expect a common Indian to respond to the demands of a modern world cut up in chunks of nations within its stated borders? In this context, what really is the problem? Is it possible that Mr. Daniyal doesn’t find this imagination secular enough? Or, is it that Mr. Daniyal doesn’t approve of the imagination at all, in the manner of warning us all against something akin to idol worship? Or is it that Mr. Daniyal simply doesn’t approve of this ’emotional’ and therefore unintellectual way of relating to one’s country and culture? Is he opposed to any national feeling? In that case, should he not take recourse to his ‘nationality’? Another problem area Mr. Shoaib Daniyal has highlighted is the use of the term ‘martyr’ for Indian soldiers killed in combat, while stating that the Union government had clarified in the Lok Sabha that it does not use the term ‘Martyr’ to describe a soldier who had died in action. The reason for not using the term, as Mr. Daniyal puts it is: the word Martyr comes from a Greek word that literally means ‘witness’, refers to a Christian killed for his belief in Jesus. The term gained prominence in the first few centuries of the Christian Church in Rome, where the religion often faced persecution at the hands of Roman authorities. Mr. Daniyal also says, “it is widely used in Indian English to refer to Indian armed personnel killed battling militants, say in Assam or Kashmir”. Please note the non-committal way this line comes about: Indian armed personnel battling militants. Militants, not terrorists. In Mr. Daniyal’s world, utopian superhighways of logic and rational thinking cover the entire expanse of the collective minds where none thinks differently and they ride on and on, on their intellectual high horses not eating or drinking or cultivating or producing a single thing. Because, all of these activities would require people to work together and that’s not possible without some form of organization. Such organisations would require fictions of community, society, religion, etc AND THAT WOULD BE UNACCEPTABLE. Besides, everyone would want to ride their high horses, who would want to work to produce, cultivate, or construct or even care about it all? That’s why he uses the word militants and not terrorists. The word Terrorists would imply a judgement against people willing to die for their ’cause’ which may be a religion or an ideology, a judgement that intellectuals such as Mr. Daniyal are wont to make; but the same intellectuals leave no effort to deride that collective of people who is willing to die to protect the existing order of their society: their country. They will not judge the terrorist for his religiously motivated zeal to destroy but will readily judge people trying to protect themselves from that terrorist through collective nationalistic feeling. They will call nationalism religion-like, because in this case it is the Hindu “religion” being referenced, but will not question religion itself and its contours because here he would have to talk about other main religions, i.e. Christianity and Islam, thanks to which the Indian sub-continent has had to split up in various chunks that sing different national anthems, i.e. accepting Christian hymnody. Anyway, coming back to the term ‘Martyr’, the use of which Mr. Daniyal terms as theological cross-pollination, he deftly links it to the Supreme Court order that makes it mandatory for the National Anthem to be played in movie theatres. He cites the order: “All present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.” Mr. Daniyal rightly points out that the concept of national anthem comes to India from Europe, tracing its origins to the Christian hymnody, and yes, he’s right that in this regard, standing up was a mark of respect. He also offers a counter – a kirtan or a qawwali is performed sitting down and, one would assume, the singer or the audience means no disrespect. He sounds concerned that ‘as in the case of martyr, without realizing it, Indian nationalists are importing elements of organized religion to give shape to their conception of community’. And I see that Mr. Shoaib Daniyal is absolutely right in diagnosing the problem. You see, the Hindu culture of Sanaatan Dharma has absolutely no concept of martyrdom. We also have absolutely no history of having a National Anthem. Later, the kings did have emblems and flags, but no National Anthem. That came from India’s ties with Christianity and the Christian invasion, or in other words, the East India Company – the British raj, the Christian Missionary. But, maybe Mr. Daniyal should be equally concerned about how this hymnody has now gone universal – I don’t know of any country that doesn’t have a National Anthem, doesn’t have a set of rules observant upon how to respect National symbols, doesn’t take pride in its National symbols. Does Mr. Daniyal have any problem with any other country having all these symbols of nationalism? Perhaps not, because and only because no other country’s people call their motherland Bharat Mata. He probably finds it confusing that a people who imagine their nation in Hindu finery accept Christian hymnody. And, this is why he should understand India better. The Hindu culture has openly welcomed all religions and kept them safe – ask the Zoroastrians, ask the Jews. If at all he wants to ask this question about being influenced by Christian hymnody, he should put it to Islamic states. Finally, Mr. Daniyal doesn’t like the fact that our nationalism is too rooted in our territories. This is what he has to say: “Today, nations will be ready to pay immensely in terms of lives and money to maintain the integrity of their map. This is true even for seemingly pointless strips of land – think the Falklands war between Argentina and the UK, or the Siachen conflict closer home.” To this, I have nothing to say but quote Donald Trump, “We are a nation and nations have borders”. Liberal intellectuals steeped in the idea of globalized world fail to understand this at their own peril. Siachen, to Mr. Shoaib Daniyal, is a pointless strip of land. Tomorrow, he’ll call Kashmir so, to be followed by West Bengal, possibly Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and then maybe Hyderabad, and maybe Uttar Pradesh, and then who knows… “Bharatmaa tere tukde hongey” (that chant of JNU intellectuals whence Kanhiya Kumar’s fame came and went) … you know where this is going, right? The parallel between nationalism and religion notwithstanding, I would advise Mr. Shoaib Daniyal to take heart: at least, unlike the very imagined ‘kingdom of heaven’ and the afterlife, nations truly exist. India exists. Indians exist. We, as one country, do exist.        

Ants in yoga pants

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Apparently last week, yoga pants got the best (!) of Alan Sorrentino, aged 63, a Rhode Island resident. In a letter to a local newspaper, he blasted yoga pants, the ultimate in feel-good clothing for us women as the ‘absolute  worst thing to happen to women’s fashion since the mini skirt’. Insightfully, his tirade ventured the explanation “that, like the mini skirt, yoga pants are “adorable” on children and fit young women, but that the exercise ensemble is both “disturbing” and “bizarre” when stretched over the thighs of “mature, adult” ladies” Link here (Sunday Morning Herald). Apparently, Sorrentino also declared later that his comment that was published in a local newspaper, was meant to be a satire and humorous but that didn’t stop about 400 women getting together to organise the ‘yoga pants parade’ during which they marched past his house.     All in all, great. Sorrentino’s appeal to women to “grow up” and make sensible sartorial choices is probably going to fall on deaf ears, no doubt. After all, if women were as smart as he wants us to be, you think mini skirts would have made it through generations of us…? The reason why I’m writing this way past my bed time is that I want to add something to Sorrentino’s assertion that yoga pants is the “absolute worst thing” to happen to women’s fashion since mini skirt. And this is what I want to add: AND MEN. Mini Skirt and MEN. Because, most probably a man came up with the evil design of a mini skirt. And no, I won’t check up on fashion history. Just a random guess should suffice. Because… men outside of fashion – men like Sorrentino – simply can’t get over themselves telling women what to do and what not to do. Other men who may not be like him but are outside of fashion might overthink the “message” the length or the fit or the shape of the apparel. Throughout history, such men’s opinions have played havoc on women’s fashions. But, speak of men inside of fashion. You might call them worst offenders but frankly, fashion is an equal opportunity space – treating insiders and outsiders with equal importance. Just don’t forget: there are a lot more men in the profession of apparel design than women, just like many more professional cooks are men, rather than women. I’ve had a string of harrowing experiences particularly when out buying a most common type of garment – a pair of jeans. It seems an unholy conspiracy against women to only stock up with super skinny, skinny, slim fit, the latter being the roomiest. I love Levi’s but even there, the most comfy BF jeans – the 501 series – comes in a torn version. I find brand new jeans worth around 5K that’s “distressed” and torn without ever being worn, utterly fake and disgraceful. It’s hardly flattering that when a woman wants to get into something comfortable, she must choose between skinny and super skinny. Or between a torn 501 threadbare at the knees, no choice. In the big big metro of Mumbai, there are essentially just two Levi’s shops that stock the elusive 501. So unlike men, who have classic fit, straight fit, baggy jeans, and what not. It’s a pity not to be able to find yoga shorts for women, the kinda loose-fitting knee-length shorts with pockets on the side that men wear during workouts. What you do find, a dime a dozen instead, are hot pants. Because, our job is to keep things hot, in’it? It’s even worse for T-shirts. If you find a tennis tee, it’ll be pretty much figure-hugging around the bust, if round-necked, it’ll have shoulder cap sleeves or very short sleeves – not everyone’s cup of tea. So the message is, Whatever the age, whatever your body type, whatever you do, look hot. That’s what the man outside fashion wants is what the man inside fashion thinks and therefore, designs. No one asks the woman what she’d like to wear. So, hear ye, the women have spoken: Yoga pants rule. So do hot pants. And bodycon dresses. And all else underneath. Just,… go about your stuff like you should. Leave our wardrobes alone. Thank you very much. A woman in yoga pants is a happy woman, let her be.

Of Sakshis, Sindhus, and Dipas of India

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Rio 2016 became a much talked about event in India, and our country was trolled by  international media for being the worst Olympics participating nation ever in terms of per person medal count. This time our contingent was 117 strong. Our medal tally: 2. One bronze (Sakshi Malik, wrestling) and one silver (PV Sindhu, badminton). The New Zealand Herald has called us the ‘worst country at the Olympics’ and Brit journalist Piers Morgan unleashed a Twitter war calling it embarrassing to have won just 2 medals for 1.2billion people. Indians reacted wildly – as many supporting, seconding his views and as many trashing him. What none of this could dampen, however, were two celebrations: One in Hyderabad welcoming PV Sindhu, and the other, welcoming Sakshi Malik in Bahadurgarh, Haryana. These women are our medal winners. There was a joke shared recently on my Whatsapp group: India mein, subzi se leke medals tak lene ladkiyon ko hi jana padta hai (In India, to get anything from vegetables to medals, it’s only the girls that have to go!). It wasn’t long before it descended into a gender discourse. But, what was worse was the official line being taken by well-known personalities such as the office of the Chief Minister, Haryana, and others. Two women bringing medals and Dipa doing the deadly Produnova were instances used to endorse the anti-female foeticide & infanticide stance. I don’t think it does anything for the real message: That girls have the right to exist, thrive, and live; safely, securely, and with love. Sakshi’s father is a bus conductor with DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) and PV Sindhu’s father is with the Railways, while Dipa’s father is a top weight lifting coach with the Sports Authority of India. All three have this in common: extremely supportive families. Sindhu’s father is an Arjuna awardee and her mother a volleyball player. So, a sports background certainly helped. What really helped, though, was that their families have human beings, who feel, love, and support one another. Many of us don’t. Those of us who are daunted by the birth of a daughter because we’ll have to spend a lifetime educating & caring for them without any RoI (Return on Investment) i.e. when she gets married, which, to make possible again will need my life’s savings, we are the people who abort the foetus, kill them, deprive them, harass them. This is a financial conundrum that poses as a cultural/traditional conundrum, that is the truth and I will say it, believe it or not. This culture only looks at what do I, as a parent, as the one in whom this family originated, wants. That’s why a girl leaving home after marriage is seen as a loss, and a boy whom you can ‘keep’, who’ll also take a wife down the line (with the dowry she’ll bring), who’ll both look after me in my old, seen as a profitable way to make a living. You think it’s not that simple? This is a tradition that started in an agrarian economy, peasantry, it can’t be more complicated than that either. Yes, the honour, heir, angles got added later, but the basics remain. Now when we forward the idea that we should let girls live because they’ll bring us medals, is the same as saying keep the boy because he’ll bring in the livelihood. But we all know how the latter affection has turned out: it has given birth to a rigid patriarchy that affects boys just as badly. Going with a wrong idea for short-term gains is ultimately, WRONG. Both genders have a right to live. Period. If as parents you think your culture puts you as a daughter’s parent at a disadvantage, then you know what your fight looks like and you should have it in you to fight it. If you don’t you’re not a parent. You’re some scum who only sought to get laid, gambler who bet on a 50-50 chance of a desirable result, and a monster who has no conscience needed to kick in when witnessing an injustice in order to act against it. If you can’t parent a daughter, you can’t parent a son. You can’t parent. Period. And the same can be said about a nation. So, may be you can say ‘Beti Bachao’, while choosing Sakshi Malik as its brand ambassador, I see us women day in and day out wrestling with social and political apathy, sexual harassment and abuse, domestic violence, psychological violence, gender-based discrimination. I see our hopes doing a Produnova every day a significant figure and public face rubbishes our predicament as victims of all kinds of violence and injustices. Especially men saying that era of discrimination is officially over now that we have put girls through schools and women through colleges. To them I have to say, there is life and then there’s living. To live means to have the hope of achieving something that is important to you. Most of our women don’t have that. PV Sindhu’s family moved closer to Hyderabad to make it possible for her to keep training. Her father was enlisted in Pullela Gopichand’s ‘Project Rio’ a year before the games were to begin. And he took an 8-month leave from work to spend every minute by his daughter’s side, constantly motivating her. This, in a country where a lot of men don’t even visit their newly born daughter in the hospital. It is these families that are families in a true sense of the word. They know the meaning of struggle and their kid winning a medal is just one of the many wins they have won along the way. Every family that has a daughter fights these battles every day of their lives. I think of my parents who constantly worry about how I am doing on the mean streets of Mumbai. I dedicate this post to all those families raising happy daughters (also happy daughters in law) – you’re the only real parents in this country. Your daughters don’t have medals but that’s just one small thing. And to Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, and PV Sindhu, thank you for being our cheerleaders! (picture: Dipa Karmakar, a still from a youtube video, got off the net)

Uber, a symbol of class conversion

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The other day I was with a friend and we found ourselves talking about how much our lives have changed since Uber / Ola hit the roads in our city. Very much, we realised. But not just for us, also for the drivers. First stop, Convenience. Had to be, of course. For many, it’s not just about hailing a four-wheeler when and where… it’s also about beating the frustration and fatigue of massive, ceaseless traffic full of knuckleheads who couldn’t be bothered about traffic rules. In India, that’s putting it mildly. Given that daily commute on busy roads is one of the major contributors to work stress, many like me take succour in just hailing a cab. Surge or no surge. Next comes Cost. And not for everyone. What delights the Indian commuter is that in many cases, a ride in an Ola Mini/Micro or Uber Go costs much the same as that in an autorickshaw. They maybe commonly referred to as autos but autorickshaws derive their name from the word jinricksha – of Japanese/Chinese origin, meaning handcarts. Versus that, advantage cab: track the ride; AC; closed and therefore, safer; luxurious; custom payment mode; ability to use maps… Cool, right? Third and final, Communication. The real topic of our conversation here. In the pre-Uber/Ola era, communication with the auto driver meant basically asking him whether he ‘wants to go’ where you wanted to. A whole lot of times, you ask him, ‘Bhaiya Ghatkopar?’ only to see him shaking his bob while steering his three-wheeler away from you. Little regard for the job he was doing and even less his courtesy for you. The next step was may be arguing over which route to take. Then may be admonishing him over his need for speed. Then may be haggling about not having change, or the right fare, or where exactly he agreed to drop you off versus where you wanted him to. A generous exchange of swear words is never ruled out as an option if it turns out you are both having a bad day. It was not pretty and it still isn’t. My last week’s trip to Thane is a recent reminder. Had to “ask out” literally 15 autos before one agreed to drive me to a particular ‘naka‘ just because “time ho gaya madam, abhi badli karne ka hai” (change of shift between drivers). This ALLLLLL has changed in the Uber / Ola era. Here, we have real conversations. Because there is greater respect. Both ways, I see. These are your private drivers on a short hire. They are courteous, most of the times (is it because their work is incentivised based on the stars you give in your feedback ? Or is it because they are actually happier doing this job? And, are they happier because they HAVE incentives?); they are not temperamental as they would have been otherwise (is it the stars again?). There. I said it. So when my friend and I got to this part, we couldn’t but help look at each other. It struck us both exactly what it was we were really talking about. You see, a large number of the drivers working for Uber/Ola are those who have been working for someone or the other before as well. Why is it only now that conversations are in the spotlight for the simple reason that they exist? Well, because something has enabled their existence. And that’s the beauty of technology. The app-based system has made both parties come together on the same platform to do something together. Our respect for each other has grown considerably. Our perception of the other too has changed. Especially on the customer’s side. We no longer take these men and women (in some cities) as ‘just a driver’ like we used to before. I’ve actually been driven by an engineer who owns 2 cars he manages with Uber, employs 2 drivers for doing so, and has earlier worked where I have too. Someone once told me that a good engineer will manage to find ways to maximise the outcome with the least of resources, whichever be the field he is in. This guy has done so. He has maximised his earning potential with very little investment and inconvenience to himself. When my parents came visiting, we were driven by an old-ish man who was clearly at peace with life; cracking jokes, stopping for pedestrians, and yet, overtaking at unlikeliest of places and having a good time, clearly. The only difference is, some of them request you to give them the ‘stars’ and some don’t. SO, when some people talk about how an ‘engineer’ or ‘entrepreneur’ would put up with being a ‘mere cab driver’, I am amused. They speak as if they are themselves doing their dream job, living their dream lives, and following their dream career. How many of us really do, anyway! And wouldn’t most of us would stop working the day our work didn’t earn us that pay check, however passionate we claim to be about our work? What Uber is doing is dissolving boundary lines of class. This is what education was supposed to do but it achieved quite the opposite. The scene is changing now that we have ‘educated’ drivers. I’m sure the day is not far when we have ‘educated’ domestic helps and electricians and janitors and plumbers… evidently, they take less advantage of the system and are less likely to abuse the power they have than the ‘educated’ or the ‘highly educated’ lot such as our babus and MBAs and CEOs and whatnot. At this point, would it be too far a stretch to refer to The Bhagavad Gita and what happened between Arjun and Krishna during the all-important battle of Kurukshetra? Krishna, the lord incarnate, drove Arjun’s, a mere mortal’s chariot. Not only that, he also drove Arjuna’s side to victory. All am saying is, perhaps it’s time to look at and perceive life out of the boxes we have constructed for ourselves and lived in for too long. Besides, if money is what you are looking at, you could read this perhaps: TOI article on how senior execs take to driving and one of my favourite blogs on finance (financialsamurai.com) explaining what’s an aerospace engineer doing driving for Uber. Anyway, keep calm and hail a cab tomorrow.    

Oh, Serena!

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So, recently in a conversation with a guy in my circle of friends, we were talking sports. It’s unusual with me but it was happening this one day.  So this guy mentions that it’s hardly women’s tennis if Serena’s playin. She’s as big as a man. And a big man too.  And I say that’s my kinda girl.  She’s grand slam that’s what she is. 22 times over.  Happy day! 

On relationships

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Feeling pretty sombre today. As thoughts turn toward relationships, I can’t but ponder how we, as a collective, find safety in institutions. Love? make it a relationship. Commitment? make it a marriage. Parenthood? make it a family. Learning? make it a school. A college. An institution. Friendship? … well.. call it a friendship. Then standardise some basic rules. And then, do everything to protect those rules. If it’s love, it has got to feel a certain way prescribed by poets and cynics and scientists. If it’s marriage, it’s got to function the way it benefits the most dominant paradigm of society, power, division of labour, etc. If it’s parenthood, it’s got to look selfless at least, abide by a certain image, and do justice to a certain set of expectations that take much from traditions and prevalent culture more than they do from what the future might need. If it’s friendship, it’s many things at times far removed from any sense of fairness or individuality. If it’s learning, well, it equals opportunity to multiply wealth at the cost of the learner’s independence, good health at times, and even well-being. What does this all mean? It means that human society has a damaged core. You can’t dictate life. You can’t codify living. If you want to examine how healthy a relationship is, see if things have got better with you ever since. I remember my grandmother saying something special about the Banyan tree, known in India as the Vad (in Gujarati, my mother tongue) or Bargad (in Hindi, our national language). The great Banyan is also referred to as the Kalpavriksha, meaning the tree that fulfils one’s wishes; the Buddha gained enlightenment under a Banyan tree. The Banyan also stands for longevity and wisdom, as it survives for centuries, standing strong, spreading a huge canopy as it grows. In all of my gran’s storytelling, people used to rest under a Banyan tree whenever they were travelling from one village to another. Its canopy providing shelter from the hot sun or downpour of rain, helping hide oneself from robbers and dacoits which abound in stories of the yore. However, when asked as to why we didn’t have a Banyan in our little courtyard filled with mogra and jasmine and okra and kundru/tendli (ivy gourd in English) and Ashoka trees standing upright, she’d say planting a Banyan is no good. It belongs in the forests. Not in homes. Why? Because nothing grows beneath a Banyan. With its canopy so dense and so expansive, with its trunk expanding with every year, a banyan, if it stands for wisdom and longevity, demands a huge price for it all. Now, when I look to understand relationships, this dialogue of ours invariably comes to mind. Do you want to plant a banyan or do you want a wild forest of your own? Nothing grows beneath a banyan. You can sit under it for a few moments of rest. Tie its prop roots to make a swing even. But if you want fruits or flowers, a banyan won’t let you. It’s too big to allow for that. A banyan is all about its own significance. A banyan signifies an edifice. Not a relationship. When institutions or relationships or even great human beings become edifices, only insignificant and useless moss grows beneath. It sometimes amuses me to think that we treat the Banyan as a symbol of wisdom. It promises rest, repose, and seclusion. Not nurture, growth, and creation. A classic symbol of what our institutions have become.

Hey, little fella!

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I was on my super fast brisk walk when nature caught me… at snail’s pace. I came across this little fella crossing over to the other side of the pavement and I stood there observing. And clicking. And, suddenly, there it was! This little one looked beautiful the way it was, doing what it was doing, going where it was going. And a trail of slime was all he had to show for it. And then it struck me, don’t we all? The beautiful thing was, it was the day after Mumbai’s first rains of the season, the air laden with moisture, but a breezy morning, bright and sunny; the kind that comes on the day after rains.    

Call it ’20 minutes of action’

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I’ve been following the Stanford rape case trial sitting here in India and it’s looking great in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The outpouring of anger against Brock Turner and the judge that gave him a measly six month sentence, and that of support for the unconscious intoxicated woman indicates that wheels are turning. However, we have Brock’s dad to thank for exemplary parenting. Brock must have done him proud. Swimming smoothly on a swimming scholarship to Stanford, one of the world’s topmost colleges, Brock Turner is your classic lad with super bright future. He hails from a middle class background and loves to eat steaks. Even though he doesn’t feel like eating them now. That’s because he’s depressed about a whole case some woman made out of the 20 minutes of action he got. In 20 minutes, Brock Turner can swim Long Course i.e. 50 meters at least 5 times. With such swimming times, you end up a finalist at things like Speedo Junior National Championships. He’s also been a two-time state champion at Ohio State Championships. Evidently, the lad can score. Not only does he get on top of fellow super swimmers, admissions into stanford, and he also manages to get on top of drunk, unconscious women. He’s the exemplar. And backing him all the way is his father. Dan Turner. Another exemplar. A whole line of exemplars. Wait. And we arrive at the definition of patriarchy. These dads seem to have a code: Rape is 20 minutes of action. To rape is to get 20 minutes of action. Consent is for sissies. If a woman is drunk and ‘dances’ (strictly subjective, since coming from Brock), she wants to give you 20 minutes of action. 4. If you are getting 20 minutes of action and some idiots try to stop you from getting it, run. And then deny. Then explain how she wanted it and you gave it, you, of the big heart. All in exchange for a back rub. Also, if she tries to use that word rape, correct it and call it 20 minutes of action. It does not matter that you drink yourself silly but if something female does so, she’s doing it so as to make sure you get 20 minutes of action. She’s liable to give you 20 minutes of A and you’re liable to get 20 minutes of A. That’s all. Don’t bother to ask her. You’ll waste time that way. And that’s for sissies anyway. When she accuses you of rape, again that filthy word, bring your past record and future greatness into the conversation and project it onto the jury, the judge, and the media. After all, they owe you! Footnote: if the woman who gave you 20 minutes of A has a past record of having a great social life, sex life, boyfriends, husbands, etc, it matters. (Just like swimming times, for example). It means she wanted more and more to give you your 20 minutes of action. Finally, when you don’t enjoy eating steak anymore, it means you are upset. And you, the gem of mankind, don’t deserve that. You see, Dan Turner is a smart guy. Read between the lines and you see him trying to tell us that his son wasn’t getting 20 minutes of action; he was giving it. Exemplary sons, exemplary dads. Patriarchy explained in 4 words. Full stop. And now, Here’s a small excerpt from Stanford victim’s letter, which doesn’t challenge the central tenets of patriarchy so much as provides a strong statement for women trying to survive it. It also thanks the two men who fell off the vicious cycle of patriarchy… “Most importantly, thank you to the two men who saved me, who I have yet to meet. I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed to remind myself there are heroes in this story. That we are looking out for one another. To have known all of these people, to have felt their protection and love, is something I will never forget. And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”

More Ferrante

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I’ve seen that women are raving about these books, which in their opinion reflect a precise understanding of friendships in the world of women. From the book, reflection on an age-old question: why men do what they do and the way they do it. “You know why the Solara brothers think they’re the masters of the neighbourhood?” “Because they are aggressive” “No, because they have money” “You think so?” “Of course. Have you noticed that they’ve never bothered Pinuccia Carracci?” “Yes.” “And you know why they acted the way they did with Ada?” “No.” “Because Ada doesn’t have a father, her brother Antonio counts for nothing, and she helps Melina clean the stairs of the building.” I wonder if the original Italian version is as simple.

Fashionably slow

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Until this morning I knew not about #30wears, started by Livia Firth, whose existence I have ignored and denied in my head, totally enamoured as I am with Colin Firth, totally beyond ‘The edge of reason’. Easy Virtue, King’s Speech, Ohhh! Him and Hugh Grant. Which is why, Bridget Jones for me is like that Eden of my dreams. Anyway, back to the Missus. So, Livia launched Eco-Age, and GCC, Green Carpet Challenge, recognising best practices in the fashion industry. Emma Watson has recently endorsed it by wearing a dress made of recycled plastic bottles, I don’t exactly know how many. Mrs. Firth challenges celebs to cavort in media glare while daring to wear an outfit a full 30 times. Or something like that. Actually, she encourages people to buy an outfit only if they’ll wear it 30 times. Apparently, her campaign is super successful. Imagine this against the backdrop of my reality: I read this in Mumbai Mirror, Namrata Zakaria’s column on Slow Fashion link here. In my wardrobe hang a couple of items that have been with me for more than a decade. They serve their purpose to this day; pairs of jeans that also compliment me every time for not having expanded since those college days. I recall the time in 1998 when I had exactly 3 dresses to wear for ‘when I am out’. Which means not just a friend’s party party but also a regular bicycle ride to the tuition class. Black polka dots, red polka dots, a lemon yellow frock with green buttons and two pockets in the front – ‘sandy beach’ embroidered in green on the left panel. Yes, that was atrocious, no doubt. I owe my present madness about casual clothing to that constricted wardrobe of my early teens. At least that’s what I tell myself. Yet, that was better than what most people in India have even now. Especially in the rural areas. My grandmother had a compact folding ‘charkha’ (spinning wheel). I delighted in Ms. Zakaria’s reference of Lucy Siegle’s words ‘Mahatma Gandhi didn’t have multinational fashion in mind’ when speaking of the rise of the Slow Fashion movement. We are now realising the damage we are doing to our very own existence by indulging our self-hate and insecurities through our fickle and feckless world of fashion, much perpetuated by page-3 termites that scream blue murder every time Kate Middleton repeats a dress. GCC may be a very good idea in that part of the world but in this one, where 300+ farmers have killed themselves this year, #30wears is anything but aspirational in a twisted fashion. This is the culture of built to last rising like a phoenix from the ashes. Or is it? Ironically, while #30wears becomes a hashtag there, a hot trend, back in India, people are gobbling up mass-produced fast fashion sold under cheap labels like there’s no tomorrow. Little knowing that there isn’t, for many farmers. As for me, I just invested in some khadi today. Go Khadi! Go slow…

Full circle: Looks we’ll have to revisit civil disobedience

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‘I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilisation’ – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Yes, taxes are meant to make civilisation possible, affordable, and practicable. In India, though, they only end up being victims of corruption. Only 3% of India’s population pays taxes. The minorities, the business class, the farmers, and politicians, absolutely do not. Many a flourishing CA can take the credit for facilitating this. But that would be doing them injustice. It’s actually the lawmakers who create policies that gratify, indiscriminately, businessmen, and rich farmers, by creating policies and laws that eliminate the need for them to pay taxes. Don’t even get me started on Vijay Mallya. Taxes are the burden of the salaried class, unfortunately. Anyway. A ray of hope. However anecdotal this may seem, Premlata Bhansali has burst on the scene in Mumbai, time will tell if this was just a flash in the pan. Read here: http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/crime/Ticketless-traveller-tells-TC-Arrest-Mallya-first/articleshow/51504447.cms But for the time being, she’s made a point. The woman in question was returning on train from Elphinestone to Bhuleshwar, and did not buy a Rs.10 ticket. She was stopped by a Ticket Checker, who imposed a fine of Rs.260 on her. And our lady, she did what? – Refused. Point blank. Saying what? First ask Vijay Mallya to pay back the Rs.9,000 crore. And what I truly admire is, she argued with the cops for 12 hours straight. Apparently, even her husband’s counselling her was to no avail. She wanted them to arrest her so that she could go on a protest like Anna Hazare. She is a mother, and she lives in a well-to-do community and family. When taken to the magistrate, she still refused to pay the fine and chose to go to jail for seven days instead. I feel sorry for Ms. Bhansali on one hand, since her civil disobedience, while truly full of spunk, will predictably go unnoticed. Ours is a society of ethical, environmental, moral, social, logical disobedience. Civil disobedience is far out. However, this woman taking such a strong step, all by herself, is nothing short of inspirational on some level. Yes she wilfully committed the ‘crime’ of not buying a ticket. She resisted paying the fine when caught. This news is close on the heels of one on February 3 that spoke about a High Court judge Arun Chaudhuri saying citizens should stop paying taxes if government fails to curb corruption: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/Dont-pay-taxes-if-government-fails-to-curb-corruption-HC/articleshow/50826888.cms To quote Justice Chaudhuri, who was giving verdict in a case of embezzlement of funds at banks, “Terming corruption as a “hydra-headed monster”, the judge said it is high time citizens came together to tell their governments that they have had enough. “The miasma (unholy atmosphere) of corruption can be beaten if all work together. If it continues, taxpayers’ should refuse to pay taxes through a non-cooperation movement,” said Chaudhari. “The taxpayers are in deep anguish. Let the government as well as mandarins in corridors of power understand their excruciating pain and anguish. They have been suffering for over two decades in the state. There is an onerous responsibility on those who govern to prove to taxpayers that eradication of corruption would not turn out to be a forlorn hope for them,” stated Chaudhari. His words not only on the point but also extremely auguish-ridden. I wonder what inspired Premlata’s taking such a stance. And finally, why I am talking about it. That’s because these mandarins in our political power circles have now decided to shave off the only large chunk of forest around this big melting pot that is Mumbai – the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. 22 acres of forest land that acts as the lungs of this crazy supermetropolis called Mumbai and quite simply, keeps it sane and functional. And the Mumbaikars’ silence has been priced at – A train station and some “DEVELOPMENT”. And guess who’s paying for it all? The taxpayer of course. And many times over too. Because our politicians forget that there’s an infrastructural cost and there’s environmental, social cost too. Because “Development” costs big. Unlike civilisation. Civilisation is a quality. Development is measured in things. They won’t “DEVELOP” the existing tracks and trains or build flyover or install CCTVs or provide clean toilets and clean drinking water. They will cut off trees. Because that will not bring them moneybags. Time to do something about all this crap.  

Random thought – seeking an upgrade

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You would think it would be interesting to have people upgrades.  In the Indian context, our elders can adopt new technology – social media, whatsapp, and what not. Of course, there’s a bit of effort involved (like an iPhone user trying to handle android device for the first time). What they find impossible to upgrade to is a newer (better, more progressive) version of thoughts and attitudes.  Try to ‘friend’ me in real life rather than on FB! 

The Battle for Sanskrit

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I have sampled Latin literature and African literature as well as Middle Eastern literature, and have loved the journey. Have I done so with Indian literature? Not as much as I could have, or should have. It just didn’t fascinate me. Ever. But that was probably because my only window to Indian literature were the snippets of chapters in our school books. And that wasn’t too rosy a picture anyway – content fed rigorously and dispassionately only for marks; with the attitude that English will make your future, Hindi and Gujarati are around until class 10 only. And I thoroughly hated reading stuff like Tagore’s Homecoming – story of sad, sad, sick boy (hope I remember correctly), or a Hindi story titled ‘Dushta’ featuring a pitiable widow as the protagonist – oppressed, neglected, hated, ignored (not the kind of stuff that appeals to children now, is it?), or even the supposedly funny but positively ridiculous ‘Bansidhar’ or the Gujarati author ‘Kaka Kalelkar’s “Khoti be aani”‘. It all seemed pedestrian in comparison with such interesting stories as Maggie cuts her hair, the model millionaire, I met a pygmy, The Highwayman, and so on. It was the allure of a beautiful world portrayed beautifully versus a world that was already looked down upon, sketched with even darker hues. Why they didn’t find the Spanish inquisition to talk about in a children’s curriculum to act as a counterpart to ‘Dushta’, one will never know. I hope things have improved now. The only Indian story I remember in positive light was something that talked of teenage infatuation, by Popati Hiranandani (Sindhi woman author who has written 60 books! who knew? Google tells me). It was the rage because it was a subject oh so very relevant – we were in Class 10, sixteen and in love, everyday, with someone or the other. And so, when the protagonist describes the young lady love as Tillotama – I will remember that name till my dying day perhaps – in his intensely touching poem, our hearts were aflutter. But that was it then. End of Indian literature. If we weren’t schlepping our way through it for marks, we weren’t doing it at all. All the time deaf to constant urging from our parents to dig deep into our own culture. We disowned it because those who chose the curriculum chose blunt social reform over sensibilities and sensitivities. They probably thought that after all, ringa ringa roses is all about the plague but it’s still enjoyable. Anyway. The thought has now come a full circle. This book, in the present climate, will make inroads in many a psyche. The time has come for Indian cultural dialogue to take the front seat, at least in India. The mysticism is there but that distracts from the real goal. The real goal is to now find who we are from who we were. Before the capitalism, socialism, and communism, before the onslaught of imperialism, before the religious imperialism, before it all. Let’s catch it while we still can. Rajiv Malhotra’s ‘Battle for Sanskrit’ seems well-poised to do this. It opens with: Dedicated to our purva-paksha and uttara-paksha debating tradition. With gratitude to the purva-pakshins (opponents) I have learned from. May we engage in this intellectual yajna with mutual respect. Debate not for the sake of intellectual showmanship. Debate for a common goal. Let us be better off after the debate than before.

Is this a turning point?

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The last few months have not been easy. No. Not at all. For a middle class girl to a woman, I have grown in an extremely diverse, pluralistic, sometimes traditional but largely liberal society, especially at home. When it was time to join in evening prayers or bhajans, I used to be thrilled to take the mickey out of the bhajan mandali participants of my granny’s group. It was quite the ‘in’ thing, at least for me, not to visit temples, completely deny all the little bits of religion fed us by our elders and relatives. Not because it was being forced upon us; no, not at all. After all, the prayer before leaving the class for lunch break was mandatory; Christmas celebrations were marked by a unique fervour, unmatched by that which marked Diwali in our largely ‘baniya’-led school in Ahmedabad – not one classmate of mine was Christian, I remember (we did have one Christian teacher though). It was incredulous to find, one fine day, our elders using separate cups for the drivers and cleaners to serve tea. Once more the student in me, instructed by the ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ in our textbooks found an opportunity to exercise my learning, the question being, ‘if not now, when?’; ‘if not me, who?’ And it went well. The banishment of separate crockery. Then came puberty with its own problems – emotional, physical, but also social. ‘Don’t sit here; don’t go there; don’t do that; and absolutely don’t question’. That last one rankled. So I questioned. And then the rest of them unravelled. Same with boyfriends. Then with not making the expected grades. Then with not studying science and instead taking up a ‘useless’ profession – writing. All the while not going to temples; not even saying ‘Jay Sri Krishna’ as we are wont to do at the beginning and at the end of our conversations (nowadays in the time of SMS, a JSK suffices); not reciting the mantras and the shlokas and the prayers; not doing havans; not reading the scriptures; opposing wholeheartedly as I do even now, the religiously guided (Hindu) invocation at the beginning of every formal function at any institution – the ‘ridiculous’ lamp lighting ceremony; not doing anything even remotely religious. And all the while, the former being called as having been caused by the latter. All this because belonging to a Hindu majority was a pain. Caste discrimination, gender discrimination, vegetarianism (which has never wavered in my life). The sati system, the female foeticide and infanticide, the dowry system, untouchability – baggage of a murky past. So strong was the urge to move oneself away from the bad associations that it could only come at the cost of identifying with this culture. However, I attended a midnight mass, celebrated Christmas with my friends, learnt to write my name in Urdu thanks to a Muslim driver in our family, made friends with other kids with all kinds of surnames, especially those that went against any hope of approval on any level. Deliberately, openly, and finally, lovingly. At that time, being a modern Hindu was to be openly and actively embracing all other religions and culture and their practices. At the cost of having a Hindu identity. And it was easy because among the intellectuals, a Hindu identity was a cheap thing to have. As truly modern Hindus, we HAD TO BE progressive – join the Christians in their ‘creation’ of a classless, casteless society; we know now how that goes in the world of pointed capitalism that might just be led by Donald Trump. Had to be, and so we were. Progressive. Being progressive is something that we have always had to keep attempting at. Missionaries can continue making more and more missions; and Muslims can continue to send their kids to madrassas; and everyone can keep their personal laws. Hindus are happy to let everyone take a dig at themselves, take the jobs through reservations based on exactly what they hate – caste; there’s talk even of religion being included here, but so far it hasn’t happened; and make Hindus look like the most intolerant of the lot. And if you went looking, you wouldn’t find a case of a Hindu Raja looting, invading, and plundering other faraway lands; you wouldn’t find Hindu proselytisers and mass conversions; you wouldn’t find even Hindu religious schools. You won’t find Hindus saying we are for our Hindu brothers, building fences, making wars. I know, what an intolerant lot! Even now, as I look around, the most militant intelligentsia calling their own brethren intolerant is largely Hindu. Because as Hindus, we rarely were brought up to think of Hindu brethren as the only relevant brethren. For us, Vaisudhaiva kutumbakam is a reality. I won’t translate this term because in the current atmosphere, it has become irrelevant. We, who never went in search of our own identity – a religious identity, but were content with our cultural identity, find ourselves at a strange juncture. I am already probing my Hindu roots, looking for what makes me so tolerant to others’ insinuations and cheap jibes at my being intolerant. I know what it is. It’s my tolerance. We’re okay with cheap risque jokes about our Gods, we might not like it but we’re okay with letting people use the imagery of Hindu Gods and Goddesses to design their bikinis and flip-flops – we’d rather ignore it, we’re okay sharing our spaces and our history, of course our resources, and our society and the safety it ensures, with others as we have always done. And what’s the hardest part here? To have to utter the word ‘we’. It means a boundary has already been formed. I was not like this before. But the disgusting circus around Rohith Vemula’s death, the utterly irresponsible way the political class as well as the media has acted around the JNU issue, and the absolutely shameful way people have banded together to develop this story of the intolerant India i.e. intolerant upper caste Hindu India, I can’t think of an alternative. And I’m sure I am not alone.  

Men and their Gods

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The apex court is told that Sabarimala bars entry of women between 10 and 50 years of age because it’s a tradition. These are men who have adopted Westernised ways of living but will bring ‘Sati’ back at the drop of a hat. Women, beware! Don’t live with men that don’t respect you. Start with that God.

Angry Indian Goddesses

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How would you perceive a bunch of drunk rowdy men entering a ladies’ toilet if they found theirs crowded, and shooing all the ladies out with complete arrogance (of course, they are inebriated)? Now, reverse the whole incident gender-wise and try to find it funny. It didn’t work with me, actually. It put me off. However, this is not so important or significant a part of India’s first all-female buddy movie but it certainly raises a question. Of course, the movie has a dramatic start – women mercilessly crunching balls of eve-teasers with throaty laughter and mocking eyes indicates good chick lit in these times of continuously reducing conviction rate in rape cases in the country – with cuts taking us into the lives of various characters in the movie (there are 6-7 of them, sometimes you lose count, sometimes you ask – ‘wait who is she? the bride or the domestic help?’) and how they have been at the raw end of the stick of sexism. Great, that. All of us have. In fact, sexual misconduct, assault, and stereotyping are the most significant thread that runs common in the lives of us women, Indian women, regardless of whether we are powerful or destitute, married or otherwise, aam aurat or GODDESSES. So there are these goddesses congregating in the scenic but rainy Goa to attend the wedding of one upon whose invitation they find themselves there. The mystery is that when they land up, they don’t know they have been invited to a wedding. And then, the bride takes her time telling them who she would be exchanging vows with. The movie, as has been the trend lately, focuses on upper middle class women. The contrast is offered by Lakshmi, the domestic help, who is leading a troubled existence. But, as the women discover, none of them are having it easy themselves. None. Not even the little girl. The movie shines a light on all the hallmarks of the ‘woman problem’ in a patriarchal world that is trying hard to pretend its way into making us believe of a genuine transformation being underway towards a more equal world. But, the fact is, it only takes one act of violence to make this a ’10 steps forward, 20  steps back’ game. Listing these issues here – see if you can identify with one, or at least a few, but I’m sure you’ll find many: Men staring at your assets while you go about doing perfectly mundane activities such as running on a treadmill BOLLYWOOD (and I needn’t say any more) Men catcalling as you pass by Men trying to grab at you Men looking and staring if you are ‘exhibiting’ your ‘wares’ by wearing something other than what their moms wear Men wanting you to cut to the quick to talk dirty People expecting you to take care of work and home Men second-guessing you just because you are well, not a man People judging you on the basis of your clothes, your look; even better – your profession People expecting you to own up to provoking men into teasing you, assaulting you either by calling their disdain for rules (traffic rules, any kinda rules really) or for their attempts at eve-teasing. People expecting you to behave in a way that justifies the saying ‘grace under fire’, in a situation that doesn’t remotely resemble flying fighter jets in enemy territory People emotionally blackmailing you to fall in line with traditions that work out perfectly for them but suck for you. People who think their needs (urges) are more important than yours (the urge to stay away, maybe). People who willfully abuse you just because you happen to live in their home with their family. NEED I say more? SO, anyway, the movie does a great job of describing these problems and the characterisation is quite beautiful. The arty community is over-represented in the mix, however. But Delhi-ite Pammi is a great counter to that and rooted in the real world. Finally, there’s about to be a wedding and it turns into something else. I can’t talk about it without spoiling it for the reader. What I will say, though, is that this movie is one where we could start – as women – having a dialogue with one another. BUT, it’s a pity that this dialogue of ours cannot pass the Bechdel test. It has to be about the men in our lives, but perhaps even more about the men around us, at any time, in any situation. Immense is the power they have to hurt us, ruin us, destroy us. This power is not theirs. This power belongs to the system that breeds such men. The film amply shows that. And that’s my takeaway. One of the dialogues that stayed with me – To be born a woman in India is to be a fighter!!! I love this view. Yes, fighters we all are. And we must keep fighting. We must help one another in our fights. Certainly worth a watch.