Friday 22 June 2018

Peace treaty

If I voice all my desires for you-
If I force open my clenched fists,
Unfurl my toes,
Shake open my set jaw,
Unconstrict my heart-

Will I be free of them?
Will your weeping ghost
Curled inside me like a foetus
Then finally find peace
And leave?

Before it does, will it remember
To put everything back
Where it was
So there are no empty spaces, no vacancies left?

First published in New Reader Magazine, June 2018.

Monday 18 June 2018

The indigenous doctors and healers of Chhattisgarh

Mane Singh holding a leaf that is supposed to aid digestion

The indigenous tribes of the state of Chhattisgarh in central India have had their share of natural challenges when they lived largely self-sufficient lives, relying on forests for most of their needs. But they look at that period as one of peace and prosperity compared to the current set of manmade difficulties. These troubles first sprung up when the State and private companies were charmed by the rich mineral reserve in the area and started development projects like roads, railways and mines on a war footing. These interested parties then started having violent confrontations with Maoists, the rebel guerrillas in the forests whose stated aim is to fight the violent exploitation and forced displacement of tribals done by the government and the corporations. In all these, the tribes often get slotted as victims who need saving or Palaeolithic forest dwellers in need of civilizing. This piece recalls the knowledge, the respect for ecology and the learning from ancestors that has enabled the Indigenous Peoples of Chhattisgarh to practice medicine since the time when there were no health centres to the present day, when people still place immense faith in these homegrown systems.

The bone doctor

Sundar Singh

In Khamdongdi village situated in Kanker district, a well known spot is the house of the vaidyaraj, venerable for his patients as the bone-setting doctor. His clientele includes not just villagers but officials and city dwellers from the state capital Raipur and beyond. Sundays are the busiest at his clinic-house, I am informed, full of patients from morning till midnight. But even on a weekday, when I am visiting, there is news that a patient from Raipur is on his way.

Eighty-five-year old Sundar Singh Kavde, the village’s own orthopaedic, had stopped his practice after his son died, and patients had slowly started moving to other doctors. The son is spoken of as a legend. Bone surgeons from hospitals were said to visit him when he was alive, and to ask their own patients to come here if the case was complicated. I am shown a chart hung on the wall, naming the various bones in the human body. “The doctor would use this chart to explain to the doctors. The only difficulty came in fixing an injury to the spine, because you cannot bandage it properly, and the ointment doesn’t seep into the wound as well.” So how many people ended up getting cured? “The people who complained of not having recovered did not have restraint, and would have alcohol though they had been asked to abstain.” Within the campus of the house and the clinic, there is a half-constructed structure. The current doctor’s son had started building it so the patients and their relatives could stay there.

Sundar Singh applies medicine on the patient's injury

But one day Sundar Singh, the father, had a dream in which his ancestors advised him to resume his practice, and he did. In the hut that is his clinic, there are some roots and leaves brought from the jungle. He grinds the roots using a mortar and a pestle. With the advent of a mixer, he started putting the ground medicines into it so it could turn out as fine paste. A makeshift switchboard for the electric grinder is tied to one of the wooden poles that holds the thatched roof in place. A partition creates another room, which has an earthen choolha, so if a patient or their family needs to stay overnight they can cook their food.

After he has bandaged the patient’s leg, Sundar Singh comes to this other room and sits on a plastic chair, “My father, grandfather, everyone did this work. It is in our DNA. Earlier we were treating animals more frequently. Now with motors on the road, it’s people.” He gets herbs and roots from the mountains. I had heard that at some places, despite Forest Rights Act protecting the rights of indigenous people over forest produce, forest officials had been preventing villagers from accessing them. Singh hasn’t faced that problem so far: “People in the government come here to get treated. If they stop me, who will cure them?” Precious medicines do get lost, Singh adds, when there are forest fires due to people’s recklessness. Local reporter Tameshwar Sinha speaks with awe of a deputy forest ranger, quite an exception compared to corrupt government officials, according to Sinha, who had got burnt himself while trying to quell a forest fire.

After applying the ointment, the injured area is bandaged

Doctor Sundar Singh also reads books on Ayurveda to aid his learning. “At times our gods enter our dreams and guide us when we are not treating a problem in the required way.” He also gets some medicinal leaves, etc., from the market. “First we used to quickly get what we were looking for in the forests. Now we have to find them.” Since construction and militarisation on a big scale started in the state, it has lost a lot of its forest cover.

What about the fee? “We never ask for money. What people are required to get are some gauze (earlier leaves and bark were used) and some oil that we recommend. Besides that sometimes people come with an offering, say, a coconut. Even if they don’t have anything it’s fine.”

The vaidya nods when I ask if he ever has to visit a doctor. “Yes, we also get fever, typhoid . . . Then we have to go. But because they know me, often they come here and see me. But this one time I did not feel better even after injections. So I just went into the forest and got the medicinal plants I needed and they worked.”

When local doctors like Singh go to the forest, they take what they need for the time being and leave the rest, saving the rest for others and for the generations to come. They agree that people, including some of their own, have now been lured to sell for greed, which depletes the resources without replenishing them.

I ask Brijesh Sahu, the patient, why he came to the village all the way from the city of Raipur. He says, “Hospitals are expensive and there are no guarantees. Here one is almost completely sure of results if they also eat, drink and abstain as prescribed by the doctor.”

The vaidyaraj shrugs, “Sure, if someone has extra money, like thirty-forty thousand rupees, they can go for an operation. Here we have had some people come here even after they had surgeries but still could not recover completely.”

A farmer and a healer

Doctor-farmer Mane Singh looking up at the garud tree, whose leaves are an antidote to snakebites

The second visit I make is to Mane Singh Kavde’s farm in Kanker’s Bewarti village, another herbal doctor. Before we meet him, we are asked to wait outside a closed poultry shop. A while later we head to his farm, which has vegetables, fruits and trees growing. We find Kavde in the greenhouse and start talking to him but the heat pushes us out where we spread a gunny sack on the ground and begin the conversation.

Unravelling the story of how he became the accidental doctor, Kavde says that while DNA is definitely responsible for the transfer of medicinal knowledge within the family, it usually skips a generation. But in any case, he says, this way each village ends up having its own surgeon. “Apart from that knowledge and what is communicated by my ancestors in dreams, I started doing my own research. Our body is a part of nature and therefore when we take in something natural the body readily accepts it. Illness is nothing but a lack of natural elements.”

He talks of disease caused by eating what we like, not what we need. “We realize the extent of the damage only after it is done. Our resistance is going down and the size of the capsules we swallow is growing. Our ancestors ate naturally grown greens. But our government is interested in metals, not food.” He is referring to the growing number of mining sites in the state. He calls vikas, or development, a synonym of materialism, condemning the sort of food “development” sells to its buyers, “The kind of food we are putting into our body these days is like putting iron into a grinder that is made to crush pulses.”

Kavde was a trader running a profitable business, until he fell sick and had to find and prepare his own medicines for his recovery. “In modern medicine, they give you fifty medicines for one disease. Nature is such that one thing here can treat fifty ills.” The medicines he gives are supposed to do a speedy job of killing the virus, while the discomfort caused by the malady takes a few days to end.

To introduce us to some of the medicinal properties of the vegetation growing around him, he first offers us some tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon Roxb.) fruits, saying having them once is supposed to boost immunity for the next six months. He plucks a few leaves off the garud tree, named after the mythological bird, supposed to be an antidote to snakebites. “But the patient has to be brought within an hour. It becomes a challenge if the heart shuts down.” Talking of the tree’s potency, he states that if a snake rests under the tree for too long, it would die. Around another tree is a creeper called giloy, or Tinospora cardifalia (Wild.), used for tying the bandage in case of a bone injury. Mane Singh distinguishes trees by their sex and uses their products accordingly. “If a tree has a thick bark, it is male. Women’s hearts are full of kindness, and so the bark of female trees would be soft, and can be chewed.”

Tendu fruits

With government subsidies and his own knowledge and hard work, Kavde’s farming practice has been flourishing. It did receive a slight setback though at a time when he was inundated with requests for appointments from patients. He recalls an obese, ill young man who was too sick to walk. “I prayed to my ancestral pen (god) powers and gave him twenty millilitres of a plant juice. By the time his family took out a stretcher to take him back after the treatment, he was fit enough to walk.” Others sitting around, my young guides in the village, discuss the case of the two-year-old who had holes in her heart, and was getting better with Kavde’s treatment. “But then,” Kavde recollects regretfully, “the family discovered that I knew about their same gotra (clan) marriage, and were embarrassed to visit me any more, as such marriages are against the rules of our community. It was a pity that feeling uncomfortable about it they stopped the child’s treatment.”

The biggest challenge for the “natural” doctor came when he had his first HIV patient. The nurse who came to see him about it had to get over her sense of shame, because of societal stigma around the affliction, before she could tell the vaidya that she had been diagnosed as HIV positive. It was Kavde’s first case and he did not know much about it. The woman kept asking him if she would get well. “I prayed for guidance and the medicines I was able to give her transformed her. Her pale face looked radiant on the next visit.”

Mane Singh's farm

With his popularity growing, Kavde has had to allot fixed dates and time for his practice, which he sees as knowledge sharing and not a commercial enterprise. Then he was able to have time once again to devote to his crops. But as a farmer some of his concerns continue. “Farmers are forced to sell some crops to traders at rates even lower than the minimum support price. Subsidies are not there for everything. It was better earlier when we could barter goods amongst ourselves. Now it is more difficult to afford because to buy something our neighbour is producing we have to approach the trader and pay him a higher rate. That’s why the development song rings hollow. Let the delegates visiting from other countries come to the villages, not the big cities, to see the ground realities. We were more developed earlier because there was more prosperity amongst people. Now the only thing actually getting developed is capitalism.”

Sundar Singh and Mane Singh, both the doctors adhere to the pledge which says a doctor’s first duty is to treat and heal the patients. Today hospitals in bigger cities and the fraudulent work done by quacks have also made sections of the population suspicious about indigenous medicines. Yet when this knowledge is appropriated, patented and packaged by pharmaceuticals and sold at high prices, the public puts its trust in the drugs. While the healers I met were concerned about this development as it limits access and corrupts the natural composition of the herbs, personally they have no urge to be competitive because healing is not a commercial enterprise for them. “Here,” Mane Singh says, “we share our knowledge with the community. It has been transferred to us from our elders to benefit people, not for profit making.” Perhaps this is why youth groups like KBKS, Koya Bhoomkal Kranti Sena, receive higher education as well as local trainings, and attend inter-state tribal meets, to educate themselves and fellow tribals about their rights, so that they both preserve their own traditions and resist vested interest groups from taking advantage of their knowledge and resources.

First published in Intercontinetal Cry, 23 Apr 2018, supported by the Centre for World Indigenous Studies.

Sunday 17 June 2018

My humble attempt to “take back the night”

After having lived at the same place in New Delhi in India for over a decade, I was happy when I moved to a part of the city where my college friend was my neighbour. If I drive to her place, it doesn’t take over five minutes. One night, I was leaving her house around 12, grinning from ear to ear after hours of laughing at her slapstick jokes. My car had just about touched the gravel of the road when a bike dashed past me, the driver hatefully spitting out these words: “You are roaming the streets at midnight?!”

I am always over-conscious about following the rules while driving because women drivers are summarily ridiculed while men always beat them when it comes to rash driving statistics and the overconfidence that it takes to leave a car parked in the middle of the road, or the sense of entitlement needed to graze your car and stare at you blankly when you look to them for an apology. This time too my first instinct was to check if I had been in the wrong. But I couldn’t figure out what had inspired him to curse when both of us had enough space to co-exist on a broad two-lane, and my speed wouldn’t have made a cycle rickshaw insecure. There was hardly any traffic.

The sad and simple explanation was this: Years after the rape and murder of the student on 16 December 2012, whom the country had decided to call Nirbhaya, the city felt just as repelled by the idea of a woman on a night street.

In college too cowardly bike riders were a common pestilence, even as early as seven in the evening, uttering inane jibes and scurrying away cockily. It was not acceptable to us to remain helpless so we took to walking with stones clenched in our fists. Hearing an occasional pebble hit the spokes of their wheels made us feel we had been able to answer back.

This time I was in a car, supposed to be safer for women compared to public transport or walking. My hands were empty, and I threw them up in the air to ask the bike driver what he meant by his rudeness. I don’t know if the motorist saw me. Once again, I tried to gulp down the feeling of having been attacked and not having been able to retaliate.

People often enquire, “Don’t you feel scared, going around everywhere alone?” When one has to feel scared without having done anything wrong, the fear eventually bursts giving way to the molten lava of anger. The sense of injustice that jabs at the heart every day becomes sharper than fear. It becomes a question of living with dignity, with your head held high, rather than surviving each day curled indoors and inwards like a foetus.

The one riding the bike that night was merely a face I could not even see clearly. But his arms and shoulders, giving strength to him, were huge sections of society. The rebellion against all of them churning in my stomach made me resolve that now I would actually roam and not rush back home fearful.

I started driving at a leisurely pace. There were other people, rather, other men on the roads . . . strolling, chatting, buying ice-cream without looking over their shoulder, while it is a fantasy for women to enjoy such nightly strolls on the streets. I wanted to be able to pass them peacefully without another fight, another encounter. I wanted to own the streets as rightfully and confidently, as do those who think of mothers while cursing and of fathers when asserting their right over the street. Nobody asks, “Does the road belong to your mother?” It’s always the father when it comes to property ownership. What falls in the mother’s share is the home, and only till they promise to remain the sacred tulsi plant in the courtyard, quiet and uncomplaining.

Having arrived at my place, hardly a kilometre away from my friend’s, I calmed myself down as I unlocked my door and thought of how the bleak situation seems the same even after all the uproar over the assault on Nirbhaya. But what kept coming back to me was the outrage and insecurity in the mototrcyclist’s voice, which showed he was not able to digest a woman a) being out b) at night c) driving a car.

Those who have been raised to believe that being a man is to be everything a woman is not would have difficulty swallowing when they see women in “manly” roles. But this change would not seek the permission of such men. Nor would it quietly wait for the police or the administration to get their act together. It is true that women like Nirbhaya have been going through brutalities in villages and cities. But voices suppressed for ages are also revolting. The torment that had to be quietly borne but could not be named is now being spoken of in debates, discussions, protests, FIRs and courts.

Women have battled oppression for years. We are perhaps too cynical now to dream of a magical revolution overnight. To live a life of self-respect, however, we cannot afford to be resigned either. It’s hard to say about the country but its women are changing. The roots of this change sprouting within us are claiming the streets, and the land beneath.

First published in thREAD, The Hindu, 18 May 2018.

Saturday 16 June 2018

Sevagram: A reminder of Gandhi’s forgotten ideals

Despite all my issues with parts of Gandhi’s politics . . . despite being aware that it is not in vogue today to admire something related to him, today when invariably I notice that bookstands have put My Experiments with Truth on the back shelves to make way for Godse's Why I Killed Gandhi, I am sharing my memories of Sevagram that have stayed with me over the years, whose temporary peace I have sought in many places since. I believe trouble occurs when we make heroes out of people whose work we admire. We start worshipping them, and the minute they make a mistake they fall from our grace. It is so much simpler to put our faith in the word done and in the ideals followed, for their significance goes much beyond the people who espoused them. If a leader, for example, fights against corruption, and is then caught in a corrupt act himself, it is not as if the idea of fighting against corruption is to be let go of (unless we are looking for an excuse to be corrupt ourselves).
A visit to Sevagram (Wardha, Maharashtra), where Gandhi moved in 1936, is like coming back to the very best of what the people’s leader had come to represent. Being in Sevagram was a complete antidote to how I felt living in Delhi: the capital city that triggered feelings of stress, anxiety and inadequacy. Sevagram, on the contrary, calmly signifies that less is more and reminds one of the power of determined marches over frantic runs. Originally a village brought to prominence due to Gandhi’s stay there, Sevagram is still making up its mind about whether to behave as a town or a village. Luckily for tourists, this perplexity offers them the best of both worlds. It has the quiet of a village and yet manages to provide the amenities of a town, from varying modes of conveyance to cyber cafes. As I disembarked at the Sevagram railway station and stopped at a bookshop to buy some (now rarely found) books in Hindi, the bookseller shared his guilt about not having visited Gandhi’s ashram and made me promise that I would not follow him in his sin.
It is true that the most rewarding treat of staying at Sevagram is a visit to Bapu Kuti. One does not have to be a Gandhi devotee to be able to appreciate the austere beauty of the ashram’s premises. Gandhi is said to have shared these thoughts about who should consider residing in the ashram: “He alone deserves to be called an inmate of the Ashram who has ceased to have any worldly relation - a relation involving monetary interests-- with his parents or other relatives, who has no other needs save those of food and clothing and who is ever watchful in the observance of the eleven cardinal vows. Therefore he who needs to make savings, should never be regarded as an Ashram inmate.”

The hut which welcomed Gandhi and his many visitors is nothing short of a museum. A quaint bath, an elderly, dignified telephone box and neat little alcoves shyly peeping from the walls, all serve to create an inexplicable nostalgia for a past that we were not even a part of. The kitchen contains the flour grinder Gandhi put to use occasionally. His cot and massage table have also been retained. The sacredness of the place is defended by the several sombre trees that have themselves withstood the many ravages of time. The practice of daily prayers in the open continues till date. The campus has all the humility carried in the name of the village ('a village for service').

In fact, the last bit is true of all the places I have visited associated with Gandhi (including Gandhi Smriti in Delhi) where he lived or worked. There is no splendour or grandeur usually expected of heritage sites. There is a bare, undecorated beauty in these places, one that accepts itself and all its visitors unconditionally. It is this all-embracing calmness that humbles and overwhelms me each time, leaving me moved and inspired.

In 1982, a yatri nivas (where I had the good fortune of staying) was built across the road by the government so visitors could stay or organisations engaged in socially productive work could use the venue for their meetings and retreats.

But for all its austerity, Sevagram does not suggest that we slip into primeval times. It boasts of housing the first rural medical college, along with an engineering institute. The road down Bapu Kuti leads to many small cooperative societies named after the legend and doing good business. All of this makes one reconsider whether the only way to meet development is to cartwheel into it headlong. And it makes visitors have second thoughts about slotting people as heroes and villains, instead of finding the good that we can in them, learning from it, and moving on.

First published in thREAD, The Hindu, 2 May 2018.

Friday 15 June 2018

On being wonder-full

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;”

That was about William Wordsworth’s heart, which leapt up in 1807. Remember the last time your heart leapt on seeing a rainbow? Or for that matter, even the rain (or the sun, depending on our geography)?

Earlier, as a child, a rainbow was to me a reincarnated fairy from the glossy storybooks my father got from faraway places, spreading out her eastman colour wings. (According to ancient Japanese beliefs, ancestors use the bridge of rainbows to descend on earth.0 But now, courtesy science, first to come to mind are terms like spectrum and vibgyor.

By giving us an insight into nature, science meant to better cement our relationship with nature, to make us an integral part of it. Sadly, though, we repeatedly fail to achieve this, ignoring the many trinkets nature has on display: a toddler’s hysterical giggle (unless offered to us via some viral videos network), an impudent bird on the window sill, a uniquely arched tree . . . We do not have to be Alices in Wonderland to discover all of this. We do need to peek out of our cubbyholes, spare a few moments each day to take in everything beauteous around us that we take for granted in our pursuit of a happiness that is always receding faster than the pace with which we gambol towards it.

Even if the speed of light is slowing down, and even if that might cast an effect on thermodynamics and quantum physics, isn’t it a relief to know that despite climate change the morning sun still softly filters down the hibiscus petals in the lone pot which we forgot to irrigate yesterday in our morning gallop? That moment of standing and staring will probably give us an added incentive to fight climate change, make the battle personal, and so on. Pausing to take in the various elements of nature around us betters concentration and increases our patience.

When life gets infested with the vagaries of this world, I turn to nature for reassurance. The very feeling that I am a part of something so enchanting and true leads to supersonic pain relief. That is why I added this PS when talking to my broker for a new accommodation: “Please see if there is a tree around.”

I look at a tree and think: It took years to grow this tall and now it just stands there, in quiet dignity as so many birds, humans, plants, insects benefit from its presence. Its years are etched as carvings in its bark, a proof of all it endured and embraced, of how it made its own everything that had come to meet it, whether to offer homage or hostility.

A Stanford study found that people who took walks in nature were less likely to be depressed. Ecotherapists recommend spending quality time with nature to fight maladies. If someone still does not have reason enough to turn more animstic, they can turn to Wordsworth again, who believed nature to be “a teacher whose wisdom we can learn, and without which any human life is vain and incomplete”.

First published in Deccan Herald, 28 May 2018.

श्रीमती जी नहीं

एक दिन फेसबुक पर एक पुरुष मित्र ने मुझे एक वीडियो में टैग किया। लिंक खोलने पर मैंने देखा कि फिल्म में कई मर्द उन सारी चीजों के लिए माफ़ी माँग रहे थे जो औरत होने के नाते हमें इस समाज में झेलनी पड़ती हैं। हाल में इंटरनेट पर चले#metoo अभियान में भी कई मर्दों ने अपनी महिला दोस्तों का साथ दिया। 

ऐसे कई पुरूष हैं जो नारीवाद से डरते नहीं दिखते। उनसे बात करके लगता है कि वे औरत-मर्द के भेद-भाव को खत्म करने की ज़रूरत को समझते हैं। बराबरी के इस आंदोलन में शामिल होने की कोशिश भी करते हैं। फिर भी ज़बान कभी-कभी फिसल जाती है, वे कुछ ऐसा कह या कर जाते हैं जो इस बराबरी की मुहिम में ठीक नहीं बैठता और आप इस तरफ़ उनका ध्यान आकर्षित करते हैं। 

आप सोचते हैं कि एक सुलझे हुए इंसान होने के नाते वो खुले मन से इस पर आपसे चर्चा करेंगे। आपकी उम्मीद ये नहीं कि वे समस्या के हर पहलू से पहले से वाकिफ़ हों। आप इस आस में हैं क्योंकि वे समझदार और संवेदनशील हैंवे ये मानेंगे कि जिनकी आवाज़ जातिधर्मजेंडर जैसे सामाजिक ढाँचों की वजह से हमेशा बुलंद रहीअब उन्हें कमरे में थोड़ा पीछे बैठकर दूसरों की आवाज़ को सब्र से सुनना होगा (हाँलाकि ये कतई ज़रुरी नहीं कि हाशिए वाले हमेशा सही ही हों)। पर आपके ऐसे कोई भी सवाल उठाने पर इनमें से बहुत लोग बिफ़र पड़ते हैं, "अब ये हद से ज़्यादा हो रहा है।"

हदें भी उनकी बनाई हुईकम-ज़्यादा भी उनका। उस पल में वे आपके हमसफ़र नहीं होते जो कुछ समय पहले तक आपसे कदम-से-कदम मिला कर "लक्ष्य को हर हाल में पाना हैगुनगुना रहे थे। उनको ये वहम हो जाता है कि आप उन्हीं की पीठ के ऊपर छलाँग मारकर उन्हें पछाड़ने के मंसूबे बना रहे हैं। उस वक्त वे एक झुँझलाए हुए धनवान और आप एक लालचीएहसानफ़रामोश याचक बन जाते हैं। 

जाति/धर्म के मामले में भी ये बहुत होता है। पीढ़ियों से ऊँचे दर्जों पर बैठे लोग उन लोगों के हकों को लेकर नियम और सीमाएँ बनाते हैं जो उतने ही लंबे समय से शोषित रहे हैं। ज़ाहिर है कि पितृसत्ता/सामंतवाद का ये संदेश महिला या पुरुषकिसी के भी ज़रिए आप तक पहुँचाया जा सकता है।

अक्सर इस खीज से गुज़री हूँ जब औरत-मर्द की ग़ैर-बराबरी का विरोध करते हुए मुझे बताया गया है कि मैं फ़िज़ूल बातों पर वक़्त की ऐसी-तैसी कर रही हूँ और "बड़ेमुद्दे मेरे हाथों से फिसले चले जा रहे हैं। यहाँ एक "छोटाउदाहरण देना चाहूँगी ये दर्शाने के लिए कि क्यों नारीवाद "छोटीबातों के लिए भी इतना लड़ता है।

एक साहित्य महोत्सव में कई पुरुष लेखकों और कुछ महिला लेखकों को बुलाया गया। प्रचार सामग्री में पुरुषों के केवल नाम थे। जो औरतें थी उन सबके नाम के आगे "श्रीमतीलगा था। अपने नाम के आगे भी ये देखकर मेरा सर क्यों भन्नाया?

इस सूची में जब कोई पुरुषों का नाम पढ़ता तो उसे इस क्रम में ये जानकारी प्राप्त होतीअमुक नाम का लेखक इस सम्मेलन में आनेवाला है। महिलाओं का नाम पढ़कर इस क्रम में ये पता लगताएक विवाहित महिलाजिसका नाम . . . हैऔर जो एक लेखक "भी" (विवाहित होने के बादहैसम्मेलन में आनेवाली है।

पुरुष की पहचान के लिए सिर्फ़ "नाम (और कामही काफ़ी है"। और एक महिला के बारे में सबसे पहले ये जानना ज़रूरी है कि वो एक पुरुष से किस प्रकार जुड़ी (या अन-जुड़ीहै। ये बात मेरे लिए बिलकुल नाक़ाबिले बर्दाश्त है और रहेगी। इसको लोग छोटा या मोटाजैसा भी मसला आँकें ये उन पर है। मैं इसे तवज्जो देती रहूँगी।

हाँये ज़रूर है कि कार्यक्रम संचालक ने इस दिक्कत को समझा और आगे इसे दूर करने की कोशिश की। पर कई पुरुषों ने जब इस किस्से को सुना तो तुरंत समझाने लगे कि कैसे ये एक छोटे मामले को तूल देना हुआऔर किस तरह उनका ज्ञान मेरे जिये गए अनुभव से बढ़कर है। 

कुछ ऐसा ही हुआ मेरे ब्रह्म समाजी विवाह को लेकर। हमारा विवाह एक "आचार्यसंपन्न करानेवाले थे। एक बड़े दफ़्तर में ऊँचे पद पर काम करनेवाले वे हल्की मुस्कान, धीमी आवाज़, कुर्ते-पायजामे वाले सज्जन अपने शीतल स्वभाव के कारण हमें तुरंत भा गए। काफ़ी गर्व से उन्होंने बताया कि कैसे ब्रह्म समाज में औरत-मर्द को ऊपर-नीचे नहीं रखा जाता। उन्होंने नमूने के तौर पर किसी के विवाह की पत्रिका दी जिसमें विवाह रीतियों को समझाया गया था। आनेवाले दिनों में मेरा साथी आचार्य से ईमेल और फोन पर जुड़ा रहा। हमने कुछ वचनों-रीतियों में बदलाव किए जिससे उन्हें कोई परेशानी नहीं थी।

शादी के कुछ दिनों पहले मैंने देखा कि एक प्रतिज्ञा में "भाईचाराशब्द का प्रयोग किया गया था। मैं वैसे औरतों के बारे में चाहे जितना भी सोच लूँऐसे किसी शब्द को पढ़ने-सुनने पर उस चित्र में मैं महिलाओं की कल्पना नहीं कर पाती। इसे बदलने के लिए झिझक और विनम्रता के साथ आचार्य से बात की। (झिझक इसलिए क्योंकि नारीवादी होने से किसी बुज़ुर्गया पुजारी जैसी हस्ती को, खासकर अगर वो मर्द होको नाराज़ करने का बचपन में पढ़ाया गया ड मन से पूरी तरह नहीं गया।मेरी बात सुन वे कुछ झल्ला कर बोले, "भाषा ऐसी ही होती है। तुम भाषा को नहीं बदल सकती। अगर तुम्हारे पास बेहतर शब्द है तो तुम बताओ।
मैंने उनसे ये नहीं कहा कि भाषा ठंडी हवा के मासूम झोंके की तरह यूँ ही इधर-उधर टहलटी नहीं पाई जाती, सोच-समझ कर गढ़ी जाती है। उसका एक इतिहासएक राजनीति होती है। मैंने बस कहा कि मैं कोई और शब्द ढूँढ़ने का प्रयास करूँगी। थोड़ी देर बाद जब मैंन "अपनापनशब्द सुझाया तो वे तुरंत मान गए। 

क्या शुरू में वे इसलिए नाराज़ हुए थे क्योंकि हम तीन-चार बार भाषा में संशोधन करवा चुके थे? या अगर पहले की तरह मेरा साथीएक पुरुषउनसे इस बारे में बात करता तो उनका रवैया कुछ और होता

जब लोग अपनेआप को किसी सोचसिद्धांत या अंदोलन का समर्थक बताते हैं तो ये उम्मीद ग़लत है कि समर्थन पानेवाले केवल एहसान मानें और उनके तरीकों पर सवाल न करें। ये सही नहीं कि वे हमारे महसूस किए हुए सच को छोटा बताएँ, ख़ासकर तब जब उनके-हमारे तजुर्बे बहुत अलग हैं।  

ऑस्ट्रेलिया की ऐक्टिविस्ट लीला वॉट्सन ने बहुत पते की बात कही है, "अगर तुम यहाँ मेरी मदद करने आए हो तो तुम अपना समय बर्बाद कर रहे हो। पर अगर तुम इसलिए आए हो क्योंकि तुम्हारी मुक्ति मेरी आज़ादी के साथ जुड़ी हुई हैतो आओसाथ मिलकर काम करें।"

First published in Samayantar, Jun 2018.

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