Wednesday, July 25, 2012


The country is in the throes of an inexplicable regression.

Cover up or get raped! This sentiment currently riding India’s public spaces gets steadily strident and sinister. Stay safe with traditional clothes. Dispense with jeans and shorts if you want to preserve your modesty. Cleavage is sure to invite dirt. So watch what you wear and how!

The sneaky, lying voices emanate from everywhere. A clicking of the tongue that originates from the inside of homes, extending to the legislative cabins, echoing on roads, TV studios, peepal panchayats, school corridors and police stations; why will women not listen and stick to the Indian mores while picking their clothes. More and more, in this pluralistic, populous, progressive, democratic home of the Indus Valley Civilization, half the citizens are being told to shore up against the other half under layers of clothes. There is a siege within; a social deceit in the avowed “good and safety” of women.

The diktats are not new. What is scary is the deliberate denial of the collaborative nature of correction needed. There is a vengeful focus solely on the molested. No one will talk of what the molesters ought to do. It is presumed that he can’t help his testosterone throwing him into epileptic spasms of salivation and penile erection at the sight of female flesh. He is XY, the most potent sample of a biped and beyond redemption as far as lust and lechery go. Legs, arms, midriff, silhouette, even eyes at times, he is not fussy; it can all set him off like a pack of crackers. Horrors of horrors, they would have you believe he is particularly turned on by a whimpering, resistant, petrified and unresponsive victim of sexual assault.

So you have these loathsome creatures rubbing their prized maleness against you in buses; the boob pokers who will elbow into your chest pretending to look elsewhere as the young, growing girls wince with pain and shame; ass grabbers, snaking out of the crowd to grab a handful. Fairly dutiful around their immediate family women, they then step out into the streets, these roving masses of testosterone, stripping women with their eyes, doing them right there in public, boring into them.

Lo and behold, the unchanged, continuous, purest descendants of the Neanderthals. A girl’s upbringing has metamorphosed but quite clearly the baby boy book has not been updated. As a matter of fact, their growth has been in the skill of double dealing. In the same breath that he uses the word “sexy” with intent to compliment, he blames victims of rape for having invited sexual assault with their “hotness”. On the one hand item numbers extol ‘jawani’ and ‘badnaami’, on the other there is this all pervasive moral din over culture and tradition. The rules are different. A guy sporting his tight butt in body hugging jeans is celebrating his masculine frame but a woman sporting a low neckline is begging to be violated. Biceps on a man state power; a trim waist on a woman spell invitation. The horrific sanction extends to men in positions of trust and responsibility. Try sharing the chiller with them and they will be quick to tell you how men will be men and how even boys are not spared. 
The numbskulls do not want to see that it is not about the right to expose but about the right to exist without shame, fear and guilt.

I have two daughters and I am scared witless. How do I have them balance their education with conformity? Having brought them up to breathe progressive notions, how do I sell oppression to them guised under the cowl of tradition? What good really is the visible progress made by the successive generations of women in their family if the end goal is the go back into hiding? Do they need, for their own survival, to acknowledge that no one really cares for the autonomy, dignity and authenticity of women? That just a scratch below the skin of modern civilization is the molten, pre-historic “burn the witch” hatred. That the men in their lives may view their independent thinking as an attack on their masculinity, deserving to be mocked and put down. And that the tool they will call in might be rape wherein lays the truth that sexual harassment is not about sex. The deal is about power, control and domination.

It has been said over and over and bears any amount of repeating. As much as the violations grow so must the protests amplify. To summarize therefore and reiterate and register again and yet again:
Rape is violent
Rapes are mostly committed by men women have little reason to suspect
Rape has nothing to do with the dress of the victim
Rape visits the weak and the timid, kids included

What you and I can do right away is to:
Stop laughing at rape jokes
Boycott movies that glorify rape
Speak out when the victim is blamed
Engage men in addressing this criminal attack on those who hold up half the sky

The ax forgets but the tree remembers. In remembering, we can give this daily, horrific occurrence a language that will snatch it out if its "unspeakable" yellow, ticker tape.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Letting go

I hear it a lot.

“You have sent such a tiny little girl all that far away!!” 

The refrain comes from various quarters, family, close and extended; even friends and those seeing her for the first ever time.

My reaction is uncertain. I am never able to pin the proportion of concern, blame or awe in that phrase. Is it an exclamation? An accusation? Or plain, good old disapproval? They could even be marvelling.

It is true that she has flown a distance and most certainly, her frame might be called petite. Add to that her chronological place in the family; being the younger will always peg her as the junior, the little one, the kid sister, and the smaller, irrespective of the passage of life she might be traversing at the time of these observations.

She has been travelling yes, living with strangers, moving over unfamiliar territory, discovering her pace in alien cultures, sustaining on exotic fare and foreign air. I have gone over the map of strangeness she must have to traverse over and over. Are there moments of crushing loneliness that first night in a strange bed? How often do the bouts of anxiety strike over the local security systems and formal procedures? What is the degree of denial that takes place in situations she is not at ease enough to seek help? How wholesome and healthy are her emotional negotiations in spaces she has no prior knowledge of?

It takes a lot. There is the pre-departure preparation. The mandatory drill of Visa acquisition, pondering over luggage content and weight, airport transit Visa where needed, currency exchange, baggage tags, first aid box, online familiarisation with the country she is approaching, establishing some form of contact with what will be her nodal host agency, working out her international communication protocol over differing time zones….it is unending. 
Would it have been easier to have her closer home?  For the family, most certainly, that would have given us a greater degree of control and ease of operation.  Her cheery, tongue-in-cheek presence would have buoyed up the evenings. There would have been the joy and pride in her steady growth and accomplishments. One doesn’t need J K Rowling’s imagination to fathom the bonus reason there would have been to spring up from the bed each dawn. But the thing to ask is, “Who is this about?” Is it about the child and her unpainted canvas or the parents who would be wary of risks? What is owed, how much, by and to whom?

What will it be for our young? Order, safety and convenience or lives free of fear, guilt, shame and self-doubt? Years lived inside high walls of custom and tradition or the core autonomy of being? The excuse of having borne external decisions or the consequences of one’s personal courage and conviction? A morbid hark- back to what might have been as against an edgy touchdown amidst unfamiliar challenges?

It is the reason I go clinical on the drive to the airport. There are the constant backward glances at the passenger seat, in vain attempts to frame imprints of her face. The goodbye hug is over before the mind is able to record her aura sharp enough to last until her next visit home. As we re- enter the silent home, echoes lunge out from spots she has just vacated. There is nothing left to do but to track her flight. It is only when she lands safely that the slackness comes.

It emerges all over again that parenting really is in letting go, in allowing them their spaces to evolve, in making it possible for them to meet life at the front door, in acknowledging that flesh of your flesh they might be but they are individual persons with a life map their own. Attachment, need, togetherness are merely the illusory fuels that crank the business of living. Truth be told, there is a song that they hear in their heads, a path uncoiling ahead. There should be happiness enough just over some shared notes. Not to bemoan or sigh therefore, but to cheer and whistle them on!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tally ho !!

I feel tormented by it and have nowhere to go. My colleagues poke fun at me when I approach it, reigning in their faces just short of a smirk. As a matter of fact, they do not bother with that tiny courtesy on occasions. They are quite open in their enjoyment of my discomfiture. They peer over my shoulder, feigning a patient calm, as I wipe, place, press, rub and try again. Brought up to be a nice girl, I step quickly out of queue and wait a slow slot to step back; all the time, my blood pressure steadily spiking.

The stress begins right there on approach, some hundred metres from it. Something heavy spirals up from the pit of my stomach as I move closer, the dread grasping and clenching my throat in a sour grip. An inexplicable sadness steels up and the feet slow down. But there is no escape. It has to be done.

Is it my gene blueprint that is unfriendly and reticent, not forthright enough to be called at will? I have wondered at the pattern and texture of my skin. The frequent rejection must say something for my unwholesomeness. I wipe and clean and blow some seven and a half times but at each turn: woe! Sneaking a look around to make sure there are only some close friends around, I have tried standing on one foot, even raising an arm once to strike that one potent, all successful stance. Tapping, shaking, and caressing….all to no avail.

The idea was to regularize and simplify and assist. Who would have thought it would challenge my self- belief? With every rebuff, I came away smaller. I struggled with rectification projects, seeking technical assistance, sheepishly requesting human masses of flippancy for sympathy and the magic cure. All I got were those gloating expressions of fake sympathy. Oh yes, we will do something, the person is not in today, try next week, it could have been done the day before and so very easily but where was I?!

It isn’t much to look at. There is the small black box, tacked on to the wall, drawing sustenance from an unremarkable wire. It is no-nonsense. There is only one or the other; it is red or green, no amber please. Despite the dust and grime of an intrepid, daily human contact, it inspires an emotion called reverence. You want to fold the hands and bow, “Please accept me today. Show me the uplifting green.” Standing there in a puddle of frustration at the succession of petulant reds, I have achieved an intuitive understanding of why the antediluvian man began to worship inanimate objects. What else is there to do when the tangible asserts?

I understand the Fingerprint Attendance System is a fool proof monitoring gadget but what is one to do when it insists you are not you! Which of us speaketh the truth? I am at war with this machine here. Tally ho!!