Thursday, 5 May 2016

This mother's day give motherhood a break, and a lounging chair

'God could not be everywhere, so he created mothers.' Reading a popular quote like this makes me feel like yet another nail has been driven into the cross mothers have been made to bear for centuries. Some men have irritably responded to this observation by saying, 'It’s true that you can never make a woman happy. Assign divinity to her and she would still find a reason to crib.'

Well, to begin with, women don’t want to be ‘assigned’ a status. All they want is to be able to breathe free as people. Since women are often accused of substituting logic with sentiment, let us try to view the argument in as quantifiable a manner as possible. 

Given: Motherhood=Godhood

To prove: A straight-backed chair is more comfortable than a pedestal.

Proof: These are a few tasks gods are supposed to perform:

-to give what is asked for, without asking back.

-to remember that to err is human, to forgive divine; to never falter, to always forgive.

-to never speak/complain, despite what you are forced to take/is flung upon you . . . incessant chanting like the buzzing of mosquitoes into your ears, sticky sweets, canker-ridden flowers, the nauseatingly strong smoke of incense sticks. 

-to get used to being taken for granted, to stay forgotten until you are needed.

As a corollary, the mother-goddess must also perform the above-mentioned functions. Maybe it should be made mandatory for all mothers to undergo acrobatic training, so that cakewalks like these can be managed with perfect ease. Women are damned if they do it and would still rot in limbo if they do not. QED.

My aunt in Bihar once disapprovingly told me of a woman who had reported her son to the police. The son was an old alcoholic and used to beat up his mother regularly. This act of hers turned the whole neighbourhood against her, who failed to fathom the mystery of the ‘kind’ of mother she was. As if they acknowledge the existence of more than one kind! Would the mother’s ‘forgiving and forgetting’ her son’s dastardly behaviour really have been the best thing to do?

One doesn't intend to chip away at the bond that exists between a mother and her child. But is constant self-effacement the only way to prove this love? If a mother wants to partake of the small pleasures of life, it is often seen as a mark of disloyalty towards her role as a giver. Once she has slipped into this part, at no times must she endeavour to shed this suit and live as just another being? And this, when men often cry foul saying that women should ask for what they want, instead of expecting men to understand all their wishes.

Motherhood might mean fulfilment for a number of women. But why can’t other women be let alone to find this completion in whatever else they like? Why should anyone else take decisions about what use we put our body to? It is pitiable when women who have entered the state of motherhood grow to be derisive of other women. They are seen as devoid of all emotions, irreverent about the importance of a ‘family life’. These are perceived not just as lesser gods but also as lesser women, the ones who would never be ‘complete’. It is this attitude which is mirrored in the vehement moral-religious furore raised against abortion rights. 'Vamps' in soaps and films are condemned if they do not want to be mothers, while the heroine is ready to die or have her spouse marry another woman as long as the house gets populated with a pack of robust cherubs.

Under such pressure, even those women who are not ready to meet the demands of motherhood yield and are then left to make regular guilt trips. Golda Meir remarks, 'At work, you think of the children you have left home. At home, you think of the work you have left unfinished.' That working women make incapable mothers is another bizarre, much-peddled myth. Such stereotypical pressures and the accompanying bitterness, on a few occasions, comes through in their relationships with the rest of the family, including the child. Or, as happens more often, there is a rise in the level of expectations she has from the family for which she has put the rest of her life on hold, which they are naturally unable to satisfy. It is not coincidence when women in these situations undergo nervous disorders and clinical depressions.

In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir has rightly identified the problem, 'The woman who enjoys the richest individual life will have the most to give her children and will demand less from them . . . ' So should ‘mum’ really be the word of the day?

First published in DailyO, 5 May 2016.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Are you there, god? It's me, woman.

What is fit to be a sobering moment? A lurking suspicion of whether the rubber left anything inside you? A suspicion that will last till, and if, you menstruate next. Is that life’s way of reminding you that you were going over-the-top with your happy-go-luckiness and needed to be pulled down a peg or two? Is that its way of reminding you of the other side of life, something you aren't completely unfamiliar with, that needs to be dealt with, the side so many other people have to face daily? People who cannot afford to be heady with reckless joy like yours. Actually, it is a sad idea of a joke, a horrible idea of a punishment if devised by some god. ‘Ah! Now comes the time to remind the woman that her body has been designed for torture, not pleasure.’ A sick idea of teaching someone a lesson. 

And what can you do? Get a surgery done and be done with the possibility of ever conceiving, even if you later decide to? Take pills? How many and for how long? Will you always know if something wasn't left behind insidiously, to remind yourself of your place in the world? To remind you that you are supposed to be the pleasure giver and not the pleasure recipient? True, you can end up getting ‘knocked up’ even if you are not getting any pleasure out of the act. But if you accept the role of the giver and accept sex as a price for the protection of holy matrimony, then you also accept the possible consequences of being quick or not so quick with child, depending on when the wheels of time stop turning on your menstrual cycle. 

But bitches that we are, we go on taking risks with our bodies. We go out at night, or in the day, and risk getting raped. We don't just let the slimy gaze of the lecher slither down us but dare him to look us in the eye and bear the heat of the embers. We have protected sex and risk the one per cent chance of it not being protective enough despite the warnings of condom companies. Even when in unconditional love, we make an exception and have one condition, that we won't put our self-respect at stake.

Such are we. We will laugh, we will throw back our heads to register defiance and coolly gaze at god with smouldering eyes, to let him know that we are existing, surviving, living, actually, despite everything as much as because of everything. We won't beg and plead, for we remember and know that we have only ourselves to fall back upon. But we still hope that he (we agreed long back ‘she’ couldn't have been half as unjust) is up there. For we want him to be listening.

First published in DailyO, 27 Apr 2016.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

What #ResistCapitalism says about our place in the system

Last week #ResistCapitalism trended on Twitter. Twitter’s naughtiness in offering a misspelt C-word set the facile tone of the debate when the opposers of capitalism were accused of not having their spellings right, a sad example of the elitism whose slithering glove capitalism uses to cover its strangulatory hands. Distorting things to this simplistic level went on when those forming the resistance chain were stereotyped as no-questions-asked bouncers for communism and socialism, quoting *yawn* the examples of Russia and China. One does believe that many of these people genuinely want a better world for all and more’s the pity then that such limited approaches’ paroxysms killed the chance of conversations around alternate systems, visions of other isms.
A ‘comeback’ to #ResistCapitalism that kept reappearing with the smugness of a Jack in the box was that the resisters are using advanced technology to tweet and therefore, “haha gotcha”, were actually standing up to a system they were operating within. This arrogance that technology can only be birthed by capitalism negates human intelligence and the entire history of humankind that evolved through discoveries and preserved itself by relying on communal wisdom. Even if capitalism facilitates technology, if we are committing ourselves to saying that the users of technology have no right to oppose capitalism, and that those who do not have access to it should reach out for the gag tape themselves, then the American presidential elections must have seduced us into hosting the death wish that manifests itself as bulldozing brazenness.

Shaming each other for complicity in a system we are trying to resist is not new to us. But it is important to differentiate between a preacher who does not practise from one who is in chains but can see them and is trying to move, between questioning and damning. If shame does not come externally, we take to self-flagellation, which is the masochistic version of navel gazing. Both kinds of humiliation, the type that is externally imposed and the one internalised, divide us and distract us from our collective struggle, for the self can be centred both on the notion of one’s greatness and diminutiveness. And this throwing of punches at the mirror suits our captors just fine.
We lose ourselves in theories, trying to defend the ‘high’ education we had believed in and repeating what it had taught us about ‘merit’-based growth, by first making itself a rare ‘commodity’ and then presenting itself as an award that we hadn't just earned through hard work but had received from a generous benefactor for being the loyalist who suffered many undeserved punishments silently. We use what was supposed to empower us to disenfranchise others, though our own power boosts us only to the extent that we learn to fool ourselves as well as anyone else.
And all this while, the only questions that needed asking were, “Do you feel happy and fulfilled in the present system, no matter what the system’s scientific or household name may be?” If even one voice answers in the negative, it should be cause enough to take another look at the structure.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

How We Keep Missing the Point About Women’s Safety

I grew up with my grandparents. Though a (girl) child, I was always old enough to refuse school trips even before bothering to ask permission at home because I knew it would be a tough decision for them. As they saw it, they were responsible for me and answerable to my parents for my safety. When a friend would persist that I stay over or join a picnic, I would be peeved that she was putting me in a position where I would be putting my ‘guardians’ in a difficult spot – they would be tense and a debate would ensue on the best way and time to drop me and pick me up. I also never signed up for drawing, music or dance classes after school.
In those days I used to think parents and guardians were synonyms. I guess the trick was to understand that the prime duty of parents is to protect and everyone who protects or claims to protect should be considered equal to parents, which is why so many people easily place their claims upon women through the popular refrain, “You’re like our own daughter,” and if you question them you are seen as hurting their parental sentiments.
But there is a difference between actually trying to ensure safety without impinging on freedom and taking the most convenient way out to fulfil the self-imposed obligatory function of ‘giving’ safety.
In college, when I came under the supervision of a warden (sharing its etymological history with the word ‘guardian’), a principal and other authority figures, I was allowed a lot of ‘late nights’ because I had to do work related to college and hostel societies. When I walked back on those nights with the winter air slicing through the thin fabric of my salwar or carried fistfuls of stones to hurl at hooting bikers, I wasn’t asked by the authorities if I had issues working late at night outside. If the magazine had to be out on time and I had to be out ‘late’, so be it. So was not allowing these late nights as easily to others out of concern for their safety or a way to tell them they were not to be trusted with those bonus hours?
Being a part of various college societies I was lucky to get more exposure and travel extensively within Delhi. Yet when my parents bought a house in the city and I moved there during my postgraduate studies, it was as if I had entered the city for the first time, as if the past three years I had been playing at being free and independent. The tritest of clichés describes most aptly my years in my college and the hostel: the best years of my life. But perhaps the period also lost a chance to be ‘bestest’ because if we had not been gated inside, our footing in the city – with so much solidarity to fall back on in case of any hiccups – would have been surer.
Living at home with my sister in the initial years, I tried to avoid going out when my parents came visiting so we could have enough time together. Once, however, during my father’s visit a friend booked an expensive ticket for a concert and I did not want it to go waste. My father expressed his discomfort at my going out at a time when, he said, people are supposed to return home. His wait for my return started then, before I had even gone. Despite being a fan of the band that was playing, I could not enjoy the music much because I was constantly looking at my watch. We were two women with a male friend. Although I was anxious to return, I knew my father would prefer that the man dropped us home, something which made me feel inferior and helpless. When it was time to leave, we discovered he hadn’t got his car. So by simple route pragmatism, we ended up dropping him in an autorickshaw. Upon my return, my father was visibly perturbed. Gentle by temperament, one of the ‘nice men’ we all seem to know, my father admits to not enjoying the role of a typical patriarch. Yet perhaps to fulfil societal expectations he tries to do it at times. This was one of those times. He questioned the sanskar (values) he had given me, asking whether I had forgotten that we came from a village where the lights went out at dusk. In irritation, he finally said we could do what we liked after we were married. I did not say a word as I did not want to upset him further, but I too was hurting, then and for a very long time after. Out of nowhere I would find my eyes flooded with tears of rage at the injustice: at all the implications of a girl going out at night, at the debate shifting from safety to sanskar, at the assumption that Indian villages with intermittent or little electricity promised morality, and, most of all, with this transfer of ownership from guardian to husband.
What sort of safety does this transferring of the protection-baton ensure? When I speak to family of my molestation as a child, they’re baffled. They don’t know what to do with the information and ask all the wrong questions, including why I did not report it then. Perhaps they do not want to feel that their guardianship failed. When we go out with our elders, are we not ogled or groped? I was once out with some relatives and their awkwardness at my calling out a harasser was palpable. In such cases, this illusion of the elders being able to provide a safety net to women in the family is ruptured. Feeling helpless, they often vent their frustration on the woman for engaging with ‘nobodies who should be ignored’.
When I travel with my partner in the metro nowadays, I still get stared at. It stops when I confront the gawker because it tells him that I will act if I am wronged. If my partner intervened for me, it would just send out the message that I can be attacked when alone, robbing me of a chance to assert myself as a person with a voice and not a stationery object that does not look or talk back.
Now that I am married, nightly calls from my mother about my safe return home have reduced. While I am glad to see her less anxious, she knows that I have chosen a like-minded partner. It is not like what I believed in earlier or the nature of my travelling within or outside the city has changed. So while the concern for safety is still there and always will be, while she still regularly checks on me when I am travelling out of town, has it grown more temperate because I am safer being married (how, keeping the above examples in mind?) or because my parents have now been ‘relieved of the responsibility’ of keeping me safe?
They could not and cannot fulfil the responsibility of my protection because no full grown person can assume this responsibility for another adult. The only assistance parents can provide is to train their children to walk with their head held high in the world, not run away from it.
After the admonishing from my father about the concert, my sister had asked me why I chose to go out that night when I usually don’t. While the date of the concert was entirely coincidental, once again it raised the question of what mattered more: the question of whether we were actually safe or whether we could untruthfully assure our guardians that following their instructions had ensured our safety, thereby leading to restrictions upon more women. Families and ‘well wishers’ must decide if it is more important for them to live in a bubble and be placated that all is well with women’s safety, or to confront their fears and work with women to change the conditions that give rise to them, rather than transferring those fears to women, who are already dealing with their manifestations.
Women don’t need to be told that they need to be caged at home or in institutions because going out means risking their safety. They need to know that they have the right to take that risk if they feel that their dignity lies in going out with their heads held high and facing the world, rather than feeling inferior and scared all their lives. They don’t need to inherit misplaced notions of shame; they need to know that as long as they’re being true to themselves they have every reason to be proud of themselves.

First published in The Wire, 8 Mar 2016.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Why the present political climate in the country is a test for humanity

If I see anyone struggling with their luggage, I pick up one of the bags and start walking with her. If I reach the ticket counter almost at the same time with another person, I ask him to please go ahead. If I hear someone's noise and feel like shouting back, I quell that instinct. Even if I have sharp sarcasm at hand to respond to someone, I try to smile instead.

It is not like I have always been like this. Every now and then I try to be a better version of myself. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I am left thinking too long and the time for action is past; at others I just take the lazy way out and allow my ego to override my compassion. The reason I am so desperately trying to love my neighbour these days is because I need to reaffirm my faith in humanity, because I don't want my basest tendencies to become my second nature.

Governments will come and go, having taken their turns at the carousel. People have to live with each other. I don't want for things to take a turn where, by the time we are able to take the beam out of our own eye, we can't bear to meet each other's gaze. Or, in the event that we refuse to face our fears and mistakes and decide to run away from them by running towards each other with a gauntlet, ready to obliterate whatever or whoever we encounter . . . in the event that I end up, fortunately or unfortunately, surviving that day, I don't want to find myself unable to face a mirror.

I have never been apolitical and never will be. But I am disheartened by and weary of a politics where wishing for peaceful coexistence is seen as a sign of having gone soft in the head. I don't want to be part of a populace where we don't look for a tally of common values to strengthen collective bonds but for homogeneity of opinions to act as life support for frail individual egos. I refuse to accept as genuine debate any shouting match with rhetoric and statistics whose sole aim is to score a win and pull the other down, and doesn't care a fig about arriving at possible solutions. I would not accept self-righteous voices claiming to represent large sections of people just because they have thrown in for good measure some holy cows in their presentation.

I would always try to inform myself over and above my predilections, and I won't flinch from taking a stand. At the same time, I would reject any rose tinted glasses in whose vista refusing to see discrimination and differences is the same as erasing them. My efforts would be to ensure that my bias does not overcome my knowledge, and to see to it that my prudence does not replace my courage. I will go on challenging the notion that strength is power, or that being gentle is the same as being meek, or that the meek can only hope to inherit and not save the earth. I will struggle to make sense of things, and hope that some things never make sense to me, that I never end up dismissing the method as madness. And I shall continue, 'naively' and unapologetically, to treasure what the mind, body and soul remember of love, friendship and togetherness, and to keep on seeking, finding and creating for those memories repeated moments of déjà vu.

First published in India Resists, 5 Mar 2016.

Monday, 9 November 2015

You’ve got mail

Furtive glances
Rewarded with a flicker

Bated breath
Rewarded with release

Unexpected sender
Rewarded with a curse

Desired sender
Rewarded with a curse

The moment of hope
Stays unrewarded


First published in Muse India, Nov-Dec 2015.

On your way

Who's to say
If you're coming up
Or climbing down
As long as you can impress upon them
That you're well on your way

First published in Muse India, Nov-Dec 2015.


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