How insiduous forms of misogyny could make the sweetest, nicest boys into rapists…This post has incited a lot of criticism from anti-feminists, but for me it isn;t about feminism at all. It’s about facing up to the reality around us….
J M Coetze’s Booker winning book ‘Disgrace’ is deeply disturbing. It tells the story of the cultural backlash against whites in South Africa. The story caused me to have violent and dark nightmares because of the matter of fact reactions of the “victims” of violence, in this case a middle aged man and his young daughter. I finished the book last evening in a grim mood, wondering how it would be to live in a society where being safe was apparently not even a right any more.
Today, on cue as it has happened often enough lately, The Hindu carries an editorial by Anita Lakshmni Powell titled ‘Bring my my machine gun’ about the violence in South Africa. Shocking stats: One of 4 men in a nation of 50 million admitted to committing rape, half of them say they’ve done it more than once. Murder is commonplace; the police system reports one million unsolved murders a year!
A report by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation report, released in 2010 claims that violence is cheap, easy and the thing that works, the only answer where there are none. The report draws strong correlations with the disbalance is South African society (SA is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 0.7 in 2008; the top 10% of the population accounted for 58% of South Africa’s income, the bottom 10% accounted for 0.5% and the bottom 50% less than 8%, as per a recently released World Bank report). A quarter of South Africans are unemployed and traditional routes to prosperity, like education, simply aren’t working well enough.
To me, all of this sounds scarily familiar. Unemployment, growing disparities, rampant violence, rape as a means of expressing frustration, hatred, rage…..we see this all around us. And a weak policing system, a judiciary that simply cannot cope, political apathy.Is this where pockets of our country are going as well (13 rapes in Haryana within a month!)? Is India destined to be a violent nation? Will we also be no longer able to step out of our homes without fear? Will our children live a gated, over-protected life and never experience freedom, for fear of reprisal from their youthful counterparts who happened to be born on the other side of the social divide?
The real bad news in South Africa, the editorial claims, is that violence is a language that was endorsed as the rightful means for recourse even during the anti-apartheid movement. The establishment turns a blind eye to violence and politicians glorify violence in their campaigns. Violence is culturally acceptable.
Fortunately for us, we did not win our freedom through violent means, but the aftermath of Independence saw a nation steeped in blood and gore. Our system still frowns on violence and there is no social endorsement yet for it. In SA, a gang rape of a mentally deficient girl was distributed brazenly as a video on mobile phone; here rapists still try and run away from the law. But that’s neither here nor there. Increasingly, we are become inured to violence and perpetrators are becoming bolder. Increasingly, we want to believe that the bad things happen to someone else and live in fear of becoming victims. The larger issues are taking way too long to be addressed and in the meantime, paranoia is taking hold of our society.
The South African experience should be a wake up call for us. Inclusiveness is not a warm and fuzzy type of concept that idealists (like me, I have been told recently and yes, I am a bit angry about that) promote. Inclusiveness is a necessity, so that we do not become an inhuman, abnormal, highly stressed and unworkable society. Equal opportunity, as much as possible at least, regardless of religion (ref: Sachar Committee report), caste, ethnicity, gender, income level, is the goal we must adopt, as a nation. Otherwise, we are doomed indeed. I shudder, I hope. I fervently hope for change.
Ever since I stopped working full time and slowly adjusted myself to serious mommy hood, one of my most enjoyable experiences has been to watch children at play. Aadyaa has a veritable girl gang and watching them, even while continuing to work, read or cook offers the most entertaining moments of the day.
This morning, the kids and me were visiting friends. There were other kids over and it became a gang of six. For a while, the division was the five girls against the lone boy, Udai. That involved the gals ignoring him for a bit, then immensely enjoying pommeling him in a pillow fight! He had strict instructions not to use anything but pillows. Outnumbered and restricted he had to submit to the girl attack and he did so sportingly.
Briefly all six came together as they looked for the missing rabbit. Fudge, the rabbit, was found under the bed but the process of looking was immensely enjoyed!
Finally, the group split into the three older kids and the three younger ones playing separately and there was peace for a bit.
Another great memory from this week is all of Aadyaa’s park girl gang going round full speed on the merry go round screaming their lungs out! Sheer joy of abandon and the carefree spirit of childhood. We adults have to spend oodles of money or bungee jump to get a high somewhere close to this!
Let me tell you at the outset that I am biased here. Vicky Donor has been written by Juhi Chaturvedi, first cousin to my closest friend Nupur. Juhi was a role model for us when we were in senior school in Lucknow. She was studying art and everything she did was cool; her photography and her dark room, her paintings fascinated us tremendously. She was driven, even then. Later, Juhi and me bonded over the fact that our baby girls are about five weeks apart in age and I would hear stories of her struggles with managing motherhood and two careers, her advertising one and her scriptwriting one- a superwoman, no doubt!
Last night, as I watched Vicky Donor, her first script to make it to the silver screen, I could only think about the toil it must have taken to make it this far-the sacrifice, the hard work, the points of conflict and low self confidence she must have been through to finally be able to bask in the warm light of success. Way to go, Juhi!
Coming back to to the film, it deals with the subject of sperm donation. In the course of the film, the script moves the subject from a taboo, unspeakable issue to Vicky’s family appreciating what he has done for humanity, the gift he has given childless couples, etc. The film is well-researched and intends to get people thinking about a subject rarely on anyone’s horizon; but I doubt social prejudices are broken so easily.
In India, and in other conservative societies, issues related to sex and fertility are sensitive subjects. The cycle of life dictates that women are meant to bear children. The fertility of men is rarely questioned, even though low sperm count is becoming common thanks to the stresses of modern, urban life, the onset of lifestyle diseases, higher incidence of cancer among younger people, etc. Add to that the growing number of dysfunctional marriages. Yet, couples dream of having children; not always because they genuinely love kids and want their own, but because of social pressures to show the world theirs is a normal, ‘complete’ family.
Another reason why sperm donation is particularly repulsive to Indians is because in ayurveda (first seen in writings around 600BC), conservation of semen (or virya) is considered essential to maintain masculine strength and health. The loss of the fluid is considered debilitating and believed to drain away well-being and wastage of semen is considered a reason for many sexual malfunctions, including impotence. With this baggage, it would take a lot for a nation that is reluctant to donate blood fearing loss of strength, to be all right with donating semen!
It’s a complex issue, and its heartening that the medical community thinks attitudes have changed in the past few years. Men in childless marriages are slowly coming forward to accept donated sperm. Experts, however, say that it is not donated sperm but intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) or in-vitro fertilization, in which a single sperm is injected directly into one egg, that is the way forward for men with low sperm counts to father children. There is, I hear, an even greater demand for donor eggs, which is an even more loaded issue. How will society accept a woman donating her eggs to help childless couples? It could go either way. Personally, I think women being perceived as givers of life, it should be an easier pill to swallow, but its controversial, I agree.
All in all, kudos to Juhi and Shoojit (and John) for tackling a tough subject. Amid the laughs and the songs (which I thought were rather redundant and actually made an otherwise pacy film lose its momentum), it would be worth it if the film makes even a tiny chink in the attitudes of Indians and towards taboo subjects!
There are days when I am exhausted by the mechanics of the day. Is it just me, or has it become really complicated to engineer the basic needs of our lives? As a child, nearly everything we needed to run our home (groceries, milk, eggs, veggies and fruits, stationery items, etc) were available at our doorstep, in the nearby marketplace or were home delivered. Today, in a suburban city like Gurgaon, where paying power is relatively high, supermarkets abound; however, going to one is an exhausting experience. Too large, too stocked, too lit, you need to get out your car and drive somewhere to meet your basic needs. Supermarkets do home deliver, but to be unable to choose your wares and deal with delayed delivery schedules is inconvenient as well.
Take milk, for example. In the good old days, the milkman delivered milk at our doorstep. Even in Mumbai, where fresh milk was unheard of, I remember the glass milk bottles being left outside each night, to be replaced by the milk lady early every morning with filled glass bottles. Now, I buy milk in plastic packets. Where we lived earlier in Sector 56 Gurgaon, the local grocery store delivered milk packets home. The grocer issued us paper tokens for a lumpsum amount we paid him. We had to hand over the requisite number of tokens to the delivery boy every morning. The system worked well and the grocer was happy to get paid in advance for milk.
Here on Sohna Road, where people are richer, residents have a problem paying a bit extra per litre so that the grocer can retain a delivery boy to do the rounds. Milk is available at a grocery store nearby, but it runs out soon. At other times of the day, you need to drive to a nearby market to buy milk.
Sometimes I feel something is wrong with me. Everyone else seems to be able to sort out these tiny things; in my head, household chores remain a scramble of hectic, often unplanned, activity. It’s exhausting! On days like this, I wish desperately for a simpler existence….
If your mind is receptive, there is so much around us that can inspire us to love life. This morning, I woke up with an urgency to experience the world around me and inside me. This may sound very abstract, but most mornings I have a to-do list inside my head and the day is driven by activities dictated by it while my heart yearns for gratification on an entirely different plane. Does this happen to you? Several days like that strung together make me feel stressed and wondering what’s wrong; and fill me with a yearning to break out of a life that isn’t pulling together or making the sense I want it to.
So I decided to seize the opportunity this morning and resisted urge to be distracted by the newspaper and sundry household chores. Instead, I plugged in my electronic tanpura and sat down for my riyaaz, essential for my music but not something that I have formed a habit for despite many years of learning music off and on. Twenty minutes of practicing only the sargam- first the lower octave notes below the sa, then the middle octave notes between the lower and upper sa, and then the higher octave- had me feeling warmed up, but also seriously worrying about how much voice training I need to really be able to hit the notes right. Then I opened the music book my guruji had given me back in Lucknow and zeroed in on Raag Bilawal.
A raag using all the pure (shuddh) notes, Bilawal is sung in the morning time and evokes the emotion of love/longing (shringar ras). The words of the composition I sang ask little Krishna to wake up and come out to play, since all his friends, the cowherds, children and maidens, are eager to meet him and pining for his company. An hour of music completely rejuvenated me and set a positive, energized tone for my day, despite the fact that I was struggling to remember and reproduce the composition correctly.
For me, the arts (music, dance, painting, theatre, etc) are the perfect compliment to the hectic pace of the urban life most of us lead. In fact, in the first half of the 20th century, as royal patronage to the arts declined, leading musicians moved from the capitals of princely states to industrial hubs like Mumbai, where their new patrons, the industrialists and businesspersons (seths), resided. Urban Indians were exposed to the best of performers, especially musicians, though one could argue that this opportunity was perhaps available only to the elite.
As Indian cities have grown and taken center-stage in the nation’s development, however, I feel that the arts no longer have that status. The population growth in cities has been so immense and the focus so much on individual progress and development, that the emphasis on the arts has died away; even schools offer minimal exposure, the elite are seen attending parties and brand openings while the front rows of many worthy performances remain vacant. Who will be the new patrons of our classical arts?
There is a need to go beyond patronage as spectators and encourage individuals, especially children, to learn classical art forms, not with the objective of making them professional performers, but in order to grant each child a bond with art so special that it becomes a form of meditation for life, a way to look into yourself, escape into an alternate world, even a channel to the divine…something that centers you and grounds you and offers a point of focus even in the midst of life’s numerous crises.
Today’s blog is following up on yesterday’s post about salons and looking good and after reading Nupur’s comment about how salons are about making us feel good, much beyond the looks……I would go as far as saying that the popularity of parlors, gadgets, retail therapy and a zillion other status-related things we crave for in modern, especially urban (but not strictly so) societies have a lot to do with our shrinking confidence in ourselves as people.
Looking around, I suspect we all seek confirmation in our success from external sources and hence the dramatic increase in material consumption, but also consumption of another kind–the spiritual. Whether stress therapy, spirituality, religion or a pursuit of mentors and gurus, more of us are attracted to the idea of being guided by forces we perceive as beyond us and more powerful than us.
Is it because we don’t want to ask ourselves the tough questions and worse, not take decisions for ourselves?
Do we really need to be in the rat race, or do we need the rat race so we have parameters by which we can compare ourselves with others? Isn’t it comparison that offers us a basis for considering ourselves better, improved, more successful? And if so, what when we find ourselves lacking? We perceive that as failure and go into a cycle of guilt and low-esteem. Which brings us back to the point of seeking easy solutions to break out of that cycle all over again!
I’m as much a victim of this repetitive cycle as anyone else. And I must confess that as long as life is good and the status quo acceptable, I do not feel a particular desire to break this cycle. When the chips are down though, the doubts return…..and I do know the tough questions need to be asked!
A week ago, plans we had made for a family weekend out were placed in doubt when my daughter (all of nearly 4) realized her annual play was planned the same saturday and simply refused to sacrifice it for our carefully planned outing! No grudges against her, but the news threw me into a day-long tizzy. A part of me was really really upset and the other part of me could not stop laughing about how little it now takes to upset me!
Last night as we received news of a grandparent’s demise, I revisited the thought of how we seem to have lost the art of being able to take the hiccups of life in our stride. I certainly find I have gone much softer than I was about a decade ago. I reasoned a large part of this is because the consequences of bad news simply did not occur to me way back in my twenties. The other major cause is there are a lot more responsibilities, commitments, stuff to be taken care of. Third, we are so used to the humdrum of our routines, that the slightest uncalled for deviation is hard to handle, no matter how much we complain about that same humdrum routine!
I also suspect that life is too darned comfortable. I have no major struggles, only trifling existential ones! Since the day of discomfort and sniggering at myself a week ago, I have been thanking my kismet that this is all I need to worry about, nothing more fundamental and life-threatening looms like a dark cloud over my existence. As I skim the papers everyday, this is not what I can say for a lot of people in this city and nation. So here’s to showing some gratitude and hoping that, when disaster does strike, I will have the strength of mind to cope!
Dragons are destined for success, as per Chinese beliefs and it is expected that there will be a 5% increase in the number of children born to Chinese parents this year. This isn’t just speculation, its what actually happened in 2000, the last Year of the Dragon!
Well, I’m a Dragon too, so is Rahul and a lot of our friends and I’m really wondering if we are more ‘successful’ or ‘fortunate’ or ‘intelligent’ that other people born under the other eleven Chinese signs! Of course it’s nice to think so, but it’s really hard to believe this could be true. Yet, belief in all sorts of astrological phenomenon and deductions seem to play a significant factor in our lives. While in India, the traditional Vedic system of astrology that uses birth charts (the janampatri) is predominant, urban Indians are adopting all of the new systems being practices the world over
In my teens, I remember that the Greco-Roman zodiac signs (Aries, Taurus, etc) being a huge craze. Propagated by Linda Goodman, whose book was referred to endlessly and formed the basis of many gossip sessions, many of my peers went to the extent of pursuing or terminating relationships on the basis of Goodman’s interpretations.
By the time I was in my 20s, I became aware of a confusing array of beliefs, some based on astrology, others on differing systems that claim to understand current situations and predict the future. The Chinese Zodiac, Tarot cards, healing crystals, numerology, Feng Shui and Vastushastra as well as the old palmistry stuff are now all around to add to the pleasure of finding out what the future holds for you.
I have always been extremely wary of any methods that claim to offer all of life’s decisions on some sort of a platter. Experts practicing any of these systems, I feel, have been developing an increasingly stronger hold on their followers. Its not just readings that they offer; they go on to suggest and sometimes prescribe how their followers should lead their lives.
Now individuals are free to believe in what they wish to, but it seems to be extremely irrational to place my faith in any of these systems instead of on my own judgment! Of course, I happen to be born to parents who made their disbelief clear to me, so I was never predisposed to seeking my answers through this route. My dad did not waver in his disbelief even when he was detected with cancer and in the entire year of his fight against the dreaded disease.
I also observe that the higher the stakes, the more the urgency to know the future. So celebrities, politicians and industrialists frantically consult soothsayers, as do ordinary folks when they wish to take decisions about their careers, marriages, children, etc. Clearly, as the stresses of life increase, these kind of beliefs prosper. Urban centers where concentrated populations compete bitterly for opportunities to progress become great markets for opportunists who exploit insecurity.
I guess my basic question is- What’s wrong with leading life without knowing? Isn’t most of the fun in the journey anyway, learning along the way, tweaking strategies and being able to take credit for the good stuff also Do we really believe that bad luck is avoidable (through pujas, chants, crystals and other forms of ‘good energy’)? It’s an open question. My skepticism is apparent…and I’m willing to take my chances!