Monday, December 31, 2012

The Catharsis

For more than sixty years these people have been invisible
With India having declared her “tryst with destiny” they disappeared into their homes and got busy with the India developing story. You would see them in private photos and spaces but barely ever on the democratic canvas. While they labored over raising decent families, the political evolution of the country was left to a strange breed of Indians. These either rose to become leaders through labour union conflicts and college youth politics or came to inherit dynastic crowns. 

Whatever their mode of entry, this power hungry brand of Indians were one in sullying the word “leadership”. From a fight for freedom from the Imperial crown, politics came to mean the fight to usurp power and money for self and the next seven generations to come. Bloated with a sense of self-importance, our MPs and MLAs cultivated the convenient delusion that the only India that mattered wore the tag “disadvantaged”. They dismissed, ridiculed, and even mocked the middle classes. The political growth of the country thus came to read as the story of educated India’s marginalization. By declaring politics dirty, the ruling class effectively put it out of reach of the regular God-fearing, family values driven, sanitized Indian citizenry.

This bulk of polite people grew increasingly disconnected with the drivers steering their destinies. Escaping to foreign lands was the most they did to deal with the mess their country was becoming. One profession they tabooed their children from considering was politics. While the good India stuck their head into the sand, the leaders grew fatter with the lucre of misappropriation. It was tolerable when limited to an inefficient, rude and corrupt government but all that changed on the 16 Dec night when a young, paramedical intern was beaten and raped in a private bus, only to breathe her last thirteen days later.

The inhuman brutality of that attack ending in the brazen throwing out of her mutilated body onto a busy road made India’s somnolent bhadra lok sit up. This was too close home. Cries of “it could be me” rang across the subcontinent. India’s sleeping giant was raising the head. The Lilliputians began to scramble off in rage and fright, dusting off years of apathy and resignation to step out, in twos and threes, in groups and clusters.

I joined them at Jantar Mantar, walking up on leaden feet, alone. There were grim faces, not a few teary eyes. I stood around, breathing the air of pained incredulity. The only two faces I recognized were those of Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechury, both senior CPM leaders. Some NSD persons and TV channel bosses rang familiar. But it was the faceless crowd that I was most at home with. It felt strangely like family. It felt like a complete emotional and mental and moral spa. At long last we were thinking community.

My countrymen, who are ordinarily gluttons for TV cameras, celebrating even if it is their elbow caught on the screen, were pushing the gadgets away.  I stood by, watching with pride as some young Indians took the mike to speak with quiet but impassioned dignity. There was no shade of awkwardness. They communicated with confident clarity, quiet pain…no scramble for glory, I did not see any posing for the cameras, and for once the gadgets were inconsequential.

This was a gathering different from the usual raucous, grimy and unthinking milieu. I was caught off guard to receive a couple of apologetic "sorrys" in the crowd on accidentally brushing against strangers! People shifted and made space so you had a better view. When a voice rang out, requesting people to sit down, they promptly obeyed. I saw complete strangers using  their grey hair to advantage, delivering motivating speeches to young groups. The crowd kept the odd misbehaviour in check. There were people pouring thoughts and emotions on paper lining the road. Twenty year olds spelled inconvenient truths into public address systems and people applauded affirmatively. I heard astonishing words and sensed a simmering anger born of frustration and fear. 

There was a master mind in the throes of a public catharsis out at Jantar Mantar that day. 

These ordinary citizens are the rightful owners of India’s airwaves, I thought to myself. Their education and self-sufficient means gives them both the onus and the ability to reclaim the Indian story. Let them come out in greater numbers, I prayed. Dear God, for far too long, they have sanctioned the moth eating of their country with their silence.

Pledge, pledge, and pledge...I screamed in my head. Pledge to raise our sons and daughters equally. Pledge to protest gender crimes. Pledge to speak, write, and communicate anguish at injustice. Pledge to reach out and connect. Pledge to demand a safe, equitable and clean India. Pledge not to let this assertion die.

I came away with a mental shot of the sign a protester carried, “I have not felt this hopeful in a long, long time.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Hyenas

Photo credit: Christopher Gordon
I have been crying.

There have been images on the TV, reports in the newspaper and talk on the streets. I understand the anger against the perpetrators, the concern about the victim and the frustration with the government. But my thoughts have been with the mother of the girl.

Like me, she would have hurt while giving birth to her daughter. She would have tended her, dying a million little deaths over her welfare and security, fretting over her cough and cold, wrapping her in warm clothes, planning for her future, dreaming of her rosy destiny only to be left with this infected mass of broken intestines in the ICU of a strange hospital far away from home.

How does she keep at bay, thoughts of the defilement of a body she has hugged and kissed? How does she shut her eyes against the prone heap that used to be her reason for being?  How does she accept that the clock cannot be turned back? How does she erase this living death for her daughter? How does she make the pain go away this time? How does she live with this the rest of her parenting years?

It is bad enough.

You want to know what it is like to walk around with your heart in the mouth every living breath. Well, go have yourself a baby girl; a “gudia” or a “chidia” or a “titli” and you will enter a lifelong pact with fear and shame and guilt and impotent rage. You and your precious girl will be raped over and over even in the legitimate spaces you will occupy. The world will rob you of your peace of mind, of your pride in your offspring, of your dignity of being.

Look at me. Twice in a year, I celebrate the days I gave them birth. But every one of the remaining 363 days of the year, I kill them slowly and softly.

The decimation does not happen in one clean stroke, it resembles whittling and chipping, dragging out the torture to leave the spirit in a perpetual state of red rawness. I spend so many of our waking hours preparing them for the worst, it is paralyzing. Rather than march to a triumphant tune, I train them to go mincing over eggshells. Not confidence but caution, care, control are the theme words I surround them with.

What do I do? I am an Indian mother. My family is like me and the one I was married into wears their badge of conservatism and religion with the utmost pride. My job, I have been told, is to bring up an adjusting, sensible, people pleasing girl wrapped in trendy packaging. All I need to do thereafter is to express eternal gratitude to the family that will deign to absorb her, relieving me of my responsibility, so to say.

But I am mothering in 2012. I come at the head of several centuries old line of evolving Eves. I see myself as a renewed, recharged and revitalized link of this mothering bio-chain. I feel the need to justify my place in and discharge my responsibility with integrity. My ambition is to send the race forward whole and confident. And so, I teach them to live and love instead. I let them stay out late. I permit them to go on overnight trips. I encourage them to ride bikes. I hope that they will enjoy nice clothes while their bodies look good in them. I expect them to be completely at ease around the other gender. I tell them that they are more than footnotes to the male stories in their lives. I raise them to believe that they have a commitment to themselves and the world around them first; all the time paying a deadly price for this culturally deviant template. An acute concern for their well-being is soaked with the constant fear of repercussions, of being proved wrong, of being held responsible.

In permitting them to live, I die, one wheeze at a time inside. 

Is it any wonder then that new mothers of baby girls gaze at the cribs with tears in their eyes?

Their hearts are heavy with the maniacal laugh of the hyenas outside.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It is not about you!

I should have learnt this lesson earlier in life.

But it is one of life’s ironies that most Eureka moments come too late for application. The next best thing you then want to do is to try and save your children all the pain and hurt and disappointment that go with a lifelong negotiation. It is entirely likely that they will want to make their own mistakes in turn but at the least, you would have done your moral job of highlighting the red markers.

Take our earthly tenure. There is a socially defined blueprint we spend our alive moments trying to fit. In the process, we are swamped with inputs and feedback, quite a bit of it uninvited.  Judging is such a full time human engagement, it begins to look like our social and religious edifices are built with the express purpose of crushing our fragile human spirit. So there are comments, observations and assumptions about your looks, mannerisms, actions, decisions, observances and otherwise.

Alterity is undeniably critical to survival but we never seem to take a break from it. The insidious fillip to this “otherness rant” comes from our notion that we are the centers of our universes. So there life finds us, alternating between being martyrs and heroes. Every moment is grand, every twist is personal, and every scrape is deeply felt. Thus we stumble through our days with our armload of pain, all bluff and bluster one breath and tears in the next, until the day we look under the bed to find the bogey gone; there never was one in the first place.

Life’s enduring lesson I would have my girls know therefore is that most of what causes grief is rarely about you. It is not about you at all. You barely exist for those you credit with the capacity to hurt you!! How ironic that we should go through life refuting and explaining and denying and justifying when all we are addressing is a vacuous space, too caught up with itself.

But of course, I catch the whiff of skepticism  You do not believe me. Well then, recall the last heart to heart, clear-the-air session you took the luxury of indulging in. Did it conclude with a life changing affirmative action or are you, as I suspect, back to square one? Did your partner in conversation hear you, see you, acknowledge you or was their lens pointed at themselves?

Sometimes, and rarely, there come along evolved beings that have the periscopic vision of empathy. Quite simply put, they get you! But for the most part, home, office, public turfs are about coming to terms; about lowering expectations; about ignoring stuff; about getting on. The degree varies from one person to another. Somewhere along this path you get to work out how much you are all right giving and taking.

Out of this balancing and evening out emerges the flicker gaining strength  that there is something bigger and way beyond these negotiating tactics of which, you are a significant wedge or slice or crumb. In other words, you alone are about you. Oh what sweet liberty! The power to change what you feel and think suddenly seems round the corner.

The only thing left to learn thereafter is to tell what is about you and what is not about you at all!