Category Archives: politics

#metoo … let us just listen

#metoo has consumed my life for last one week. The more I read about it, the more I angry I feel. And in moments of solitude and self-reflection, many painful memories of hurt and abuse have resurfaced. And the story is both personal and universal. It’s a fact that most women in India have their #metoo experiences  both in public and private space. Since the #metoo narratives have been shared on the social media, many of us are talking to each other to share our experiences. The common thread is that we all have gone through harrowing experiences of verbal, physical and emotional abuse at different level. In our workplaces. And that’s a reality even if it is difficult to swallow.  The time has come to listen to women who are speaking, who are sharing raw emotions which they have been holding within themselves for years together. It’s not easy to come out and speak about your experience of being violated of basic human dignity. By doing that, you are laying your life in front of strangers. You are making yourself vulnerable.

In recent years, the process of communication has definitely become democratized. And one can’t suppress collective and individual voices for too long. Somewhere, like a tree, the voices will find a way to have a place under the sun.

Let us be clear on one thing. This is not a battle against men. This is not men bashing. This is about people who have abused their power, their authority, their superiority in whatever form. This is about not respecting a woman’s boundary. This is about some people having a sense of entitlement based on their power, position and gender. This is about commodification of women. At work place, at intimate spaces, at parties.

It’s nice to see stories are coming out from the entertainment industry, from media, advertising industry, corporate sector and more. Let it all come — from different walks of life, from urban India, small town India, rural India. The narrative of pain, hurt and abuse suffered by women from all walks of life must now be a part of our mainstream narrative. We can no longer push these stories under the carpet. It’s time to listen to our women.

Our streets are not for our women. Otherwise, many of us will not think twice before taking a night flight/cab. And at that time it doesn’t matter whether we women are journalists/engineers/nurses/academicians.   If our streets are not ours, if we don’t have the freedom to move without any fear in our India then what are we really talking about? These are basic fundamental rights of any citizen. This is our constitutional right to move freely without any fear in our own country. A nation can not be a global player if its women are not feeling safe in their own country. Our offices are now telling horrible stories of sexual abuse. Men at work must realise that women are not sex toys.  It’s not cool to crack sexist, misogynistic jokes. It’s not cool to comment on a woman’s colleague’s body parts. It’s not cool to be a skirt chaser.

The time has come for all of us to be sensitive about gender identity, gender empathy, gender fluidity and look at life and people beyond gender binary. Empathy and compassion is the only way to move forward. Let us teach our children to look at life beyond stereotypes of gender and role play. It’s absolutely fine if your father is a fabulous cook. It’s absolutely wonderful if  your mother loves solving mathematics puzzles instead of cooking rajma-chawal for you on a Sunday.

We need to break down barriers and question our own mindsets. Talking to LGBTQ community members in the last few weeks (post Supreme Court verdict on Section 377) as part of writing stories have made me understand their deep lonely struggles in life. And all their stories have common thread of bullying at school, isolation at home and the innate pressure to be ‘normal’ (which just means being straight).

Let us share our stories and  from there will only emerge lesson of empathy and compassion. As a beginning step,  let us just start listening.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Marx on my mind

On May 5, 2018 — the world celebrated Karl Marx’s 200 birth anniversary. So, in simple terms, if Marx would have been alive, he would have turned 200. As an alumni of JNU, I have had the privilege of knowing some Marxists from a close distance. My spiritual/intellectual companion (so also my helpline number ) lived a substantial part of his young adult life working tirelessly and dreaming endlessly of bringing a revolution in this country. With a deep laugh, I say to him now, “I am the biggest victim of Marxism.”

MARX

 

On May 5,  I messaged him, “Comrade, Happy birthday to Marx. Woh nehin hote toh aap bhi nehin hote. (If Marx would not have been there… you would not have been here).

He answered, “Yes, let’s celebrate. Ideas never die, they just travel.”

Being in an organic, instinctive relationship for more than two decades, I knew he would call up after this. So, when he called up, I just picked up the call and blurted out, “Yes Comrade.” We then got into ruminating about his days of being a ‘Comrade.’ Once upon a time.

His humble room was like an open house with almost no concept of lock and key. Even if it was locked by chance, the key was kept there on the top of the door ledge. So, at best the lock did what the traffic lights in most two-tier cities in India do, advisory function. As the room did have floor sleeping arrangement (sorry if you are thinking of Japanese aesthetics or tatami mats), it gave enough space for the innumerable visiting comrades to lounge and brood over petty bourgeois. The room at any given time had more than four people.

And just because it was open that didn’t mean that my ‘comrade‘ was in the room. He could be anywhere but his room was 24X7 open for fellow comrades from different parts of the country. Nobody other than these comrades understood ‘atithi devo bhav’ (The guests are like Gods) better.

There was one occasion when I and another friend of mine had gone to his room late in the night to look for our ‘missing’ comrade. The room was open and dark. And we found four/five people sleeping on the floor. In our polite middle-class ways, we kept on telling, “Hello, Hello, Excuse Me.” But there was no response for almost 10 minutes. And then out of sheer frustration and anger,  my friend shouted, “Comrade, comrade..”  It worked like magic and suddenly one of them got up and told us, “We have no idea where’s he. As the room was open, we came and slept.”

There was no concept of personal possession in this world of Marx. Everything was collective. So the shirt bought for this comrade of mine changed hands in less than 48 hours. My blood pressure shot up to 500/200 when I saw another lanky comrade wearing the shirt.  These young revolutionaries lived in their own world. So no wonder then when I made coffee for them, after gulping cups of it, one of them (the brightest among them) said, “Waike hi aap chai bahut accha banate ho.” (You really make tea very well).  I wish I had an AK 47 with me.

There are many ‘comrade legends’ from Odisha I have grown up listening to. One such legend is about a communist-cum-academician riding a bicycle in his own marriage procession. The whole village gathered to see this unique bridegroom on a bicycle as even poor families go extra mile to hire a car for the marriage procession. And after his marriage, he insisted his new bride and now fellow comrade should come with him on his bicycle. His spirited bride went to her new home sitting on his bicycle. Well, this was followed by the bride’s mother weeping inconsolably and howling, “Why did I choose this rakhash (monster) for my daughter?” However, the silver lining was that the comrade bridegroom didn’t take a single item/penny as dowry.

In the neon-lit streets of India where now dreams and material desires are always engaged in a foreplay, the comrades are  a vanishing tribe. But these are also the times of jarring economic inequality. Then when suddenly you look back and you actually look at the comrades with a sense of tenderness. The beauty of being a comrade. When you are young, you dream of the impossible. There are no limits to possibilities. I have always admired them for that vision of a larger world. I may not agree with them but it always warms the cockles of my heart when I look back and remember many bright young minds looking beyond their comfort zone and dreaming of a classless world.

So, here’s to a belated Happy Birthday to Karl Marx.

There is no Other

In few hours from now, the year 2017 will go behind the curtains. This is also the time to pause, contemplate and ruminate. This year has been a year full of violence, aggression and lack of empathy. The streets of India are becoming mean and violent. People are being targeted for their food on the plate. Lovers are being dragged to courts because they are from different religions. Attempts are being made to put the all-encompassing beautiful Hinduism in a little black box.  On social media, it’s difficult to have a discussion without receiving choicest abuses. If you are sensitive and compassionate then you are a micro-minority.  Everyone seems to eager to vent his/her anger towards an imaginary ‘Other’.

How does one live life in the midst of so much of distrust, anger and violence? How do we bring up our daughters and sons? How do we move forward as a nation and improve our pathetic yet supremely pro-rich health care and education? How do we improve our Human Development Index? These are the questions that have disturbed me a lot in 2017. How can our daughters walk fearlessly on our streets, play a game of hide and seek in our parks and gardens? How can our daughters say ‘No’ to relationships that they find stifling and not face acid attacks and violent attacks?

It’s time for us to pause, contemplate and ruminate.

How do we move forward ?

The answer lies in “The strength to love, the courage to love.”

This also reminds me of the heart-warming story in which a disciple asks the great sage and teacher Ramana Maharishi, “How does one treat the other?”

Ramana answered gently, “There’s no other.”

 

 

India, a million voices

(I love India.  Deeply and intensely. I can’t imagine myself living in any other country. I love India’s diversity, its delicious food from different regions, mouth-watering mithais  (I will always go for a plate of rabri-jalebi over a blueberry cheese cake), colourful textiles,  delicate craft, the soul-soothing Indian monsoon, the large-hearted Indian Railways, the resilience of the not so privileged to wade through life with grace and grit and endearing voices laced with humor.

We are living in tough times in India now. India of 2017 keeps me awake in the night. I feel hurt, anguished at the way things are shaping up in our country. From being a multi-coloured, huge, rich, layered collage, we are being politically coerced to look at life in a monochromatic little box. I refuse to be a part of this little box.

My India is the land of Gandhi, Kabir, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Bulleh Shah, Raman Maharshi for whom there is no ‘Other’.  My India is large as the Bay of Bengal. As ravishing as the mystical Himalayas. Life is fluid here like the river Ganga, Brahmaputra, Teesta and Godavari. So also time. One doesn’t know where does time begin, where will it end.

The world is looking at India today as India turns 70 on August 15. Through a series on this blog, I am trying to look at India through my experiences. This is the first in the series) 

India is a country of voices. Silence is almost alien to our culture. Our temples are crowded. Our weddings are a lot about voices, giggles, arguments and counter-arguments. We love talking, haggling, bargaining, arguing. For nothing, economist Amartya Sen wrote a book titled ‘Argumentative Indian’. This is a collage of Indian voices which I am trying to weave into this piece. These voices are not related to each other. They are droppings from that caravan called life in India.

*************
We board the train from Ahmedabad, this train goes to Bengaluru via Manmad. After putting our luggage, we exchange pleasantries with our co-travellers. Suddenly all of us start feeling restless. And we discover that the AC is not working properly. Finally the coach manager is being tracked down. A lady passenger walks up to him and asks him to adjust the AC properly. The coach manager seems to be in an aggressive mood and he says, “This is how the air-conditioned coaches are like.” She gives him a stern look  and says, “Do you think that this is the first time I am travelling in an AC coach?” Well, the argument ends there. The AC starts to work in full swing. And we are all happy.

**************
This conversation is from my visit to Shirdi, a temple town. Everything happens around the temple. From a dusty little village few years back, it is now in the midst of a construction boom. There are hotels and there are hotels. We are walking on the main street in the evening. The sun is in a mellowed mood. Suddenly, my attention is diverted by cries of ‘Ramphal…. Ramphal’. This is the first time, I am seeing this fruit called Ramphal, it’s a much bigger version of sitaphal (read custard apple). Apparently, it’s only available in Shirdi.

And then comes a beggar woman and she probably takes a liking for me. She follows me and asks “Bhabhi (sister-in-law), please give me some thing.” Well, it definitely sounds endearing. But I am in no mood to give in. She is also in no mood to give up. Then she says, “Didi (elder sister), please give me something.” I keep on walking, pretending that I haven’t heard her. And then she says, “Madam (she gets into a professional mood), give me something.” I am impressed by her creativity and she knows her business. Even as I move forward, she walks behind me and says, “Mataji (O Revered Mother, please give me something.)”

At that time, I just couldn’t control my laughter. We are definitely a creative nation.

******************

There’s a young boy in my apartment who loves playing cricket. One evening, I see him walking with great confidence (wearing a helmet, pad and gloves) to play a game in the parking space of the apartment. I tell him, “Hello Sachin Tendulkar.” He looks at me,  “Na aunty, Virat Kohli.”  He’s in sync with time.

*******************

I am in a mood to buy some traditional dolls in a local market in Ahmedabad. I ask him the price, he says “Rs 200”. I remember my mother-in-law’s wise words — “Don’t be a fool. When you bargain, just reduce the price to half and then subtract Rs 20.” I try to be wise and say, “Rs 80.” He doesn’t agree but still follows me and urges me to buy. I tell him, “Why are you following me?” He walks faster and goes ahead of me. And then tells me, “Who’s following whom? Me or you?” I start laughing and then the bargaining starts again.

 

 

 

 

Health is wealth. Who said it?

I am looking for the name of the person (read genius) who said, “Health is wealth”. For me, he/she is more important than Marx, Aristotle and Tagore. Everything pales, looks insignificant if you don’t have health. A succulent mutton biryani will taste insipid if you are not in good health.  My mother-in-law says her mother (my grand mother-in-law whom I have never met) used to always say “The best way to leave this world is while you are enjoying a meal, wearing your favourite clothes and talking to your loved ones.” I completely agree with Kalumutti’s (that’s how she’s being referred to) wise words.

I have spent a lot of time in hospitals — running around depressing corridors. I have  waited for hours in front of the doctor’s chambers holding my loved ones’ medical reports in my hand. I have walked into hospitals with tears in my eyes. I have walked out of the  the hospital’s elevator with my mother’s lifeless body on a stretcher. I dread visiting hospitals.

I feel very strongly about India’s pathetic health-care. I feel very angry about the super-expensive private hospitals that look like luxurious hotels. I feel angry about the way we are dealing with health-care making the best available only for the super rich. At the same time,  I feel super rich when I am healthy and when my loved ones are healthy. There’s no greater joy than this.

And here’s to the genius who said health is wealth.

Are tomatoes the new avocados?

tomatoes

 

Tomatoes are now selling for Rs 80 a kilo. Forget about having a tomato salad. It’s a luxury to have a simple potato curry cooked in tomato gravy. Blame it on global warming. Reports mention that the brutal heatwave affected the production of tomatoes. There’s something very serious brewing on the ecology front. The developing nations which previously thought that global warming is a problem of the rich, developed world must now wake up and act on the serious issue of global warming.

I find it surprising and shocking that none of our top political leaders, film-makers, actors, writers (Amitav Ghosh, you are really an exception) and artists are talking about it. And India’s vulgar rich people are still reveling in mindless consumption. I don’t know whether they will ever stop and spare a thought for the ecology. Will they ever celebrate the philosophy that ‘Less is actually more’? Will they ever come forward to say goodbye to the culture of waste now we see in  urban India? There’s a certain elegance in having money yet refusing to consume recklessly.

The poor, the salaried class will have a tough time in the coming days to put up a decent meal on the table. The soaring prices of vegetables are something that will create a hole in the wallet. Needless to say, tomatoes are the new avocados. The poor will try to cook up something without using tomatoes. The rich might just organize a Tomatina festival in his/her garden to celebrate a birthday/anniversary.

 

Of JNU, Emptiness and Azadi

(Yes, I love JNU. If I have to choose something that changed my life and changed the way I see life around me, then it has to be JNU. There’s a JNU in the way I see/love India, its rich diversity, pluralism. There’s a JNU in the way I listen to music, the food I eat and relish, the films I love watching, the way I love people of this land and the way I feel for India’s marginalized communities.  

No, I am not a card holding member of any Communist party. I never was one and will never be one.  I cherish the dreams and imagination of a free, diverse, egalitarian, liberal India. I will fight for your right to say though I might not agree with what you say. And yes, I pay my taxes.  I also enjoy my Macbook Air and I start my day with a cup of Earl Grey tea.)  

‘I am feeling so empty,” I told over phone to my friend who lives in Dubai.  I have never felt so empty before. For the last 2O odd days, I have led a life marked by deep anguish, emptiness and pain. I tried earlier to pen my thoughts but I just couldn’t. Today, I sit down, look back and make a note of myriad thoughts that crossed my mind in the last few weeks. Sometimes at the break of dawn, sometimes in the darkness of night. I am using the symbol of hashtags to express myself because we now live in the ‘banal’ times of hashtags.

#  It was a February late night when before sleeping, I scrolled down the notifications on my Facebook .  I came across a post from a friend (ironically she lives in Nagpur) which mentioned #shutdownjnu. I was too tired to delve into the details. I left it there to sleep.

#  After  JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of sedition, I listened to his speech to understand what he spoke. Yes, he ripped apart the BJP-RSS politics in that speech but I didn’t find it at all anti-national. And being a student activist in JNU in the 90s, I have heard far more scathing speeches. I loved that line in Kanhaiya’s speech, “What are universities for? To critically challenge, the society’s ‘common conscience.” Yes, we need universities to encourage a society to think, question and dissect. A nation is not made of computers, smart phones or tablets. A nation is made of men, women and children who think, imagine, love, debate, discuss. There’s no uniform software.

# Just a day after his arrest, the onslaught of hate speeches on social media happened. Prime Time TV studios felt like war zones. The talks of JNU students being ‘prostitutes/call girls/anti-nationals’ dominated the public space. I put a post on my Facebook timeline celebrating the ethos of JNU and an idea called India. The so-called ‘friends’ came up with choicest abuses. They showed the ugly face of aggression through their comments, personal messages.

# As a social sciences student, I am really curious to understand how do these people harbor so much of hatred, venom, violence within themselves. How do they live, work, sleep and raise children with so much of aggression, violence wthin them?  Yes, they have this AK 47 called Facebook and Twitter accounts and they think they can engage in mindless violence without rhyme or reason.

#   What’s nation? What’s the Idea of India? What’s imagination of a nation? Can a nation exist without imagination? Who makes a nation? These are the questions that have always fascinated me. Where does my cook who can’t now afford a bowl of her favourite Gujarati khatti mithi dal (Thanks to arhar dal being so expensive) figure in this idea of nation?  What about the rivers, forests, mountains and valleys that make this nation so beautiful and the way we are abusing them, destroying them in the name of development?  And who will decide what’s nationalism? Who will define how Indian am I? Will the central government (whether it’s a BJP/Congress/any coalition) decide what is nationalism? Will these governments put a stamp on my love and idea of my nation?

#  How will we thrive as a nation, as a society if our young minds are not engaged in debate/discussion? Why are we so scared of young minds? How will we arrive as a society if our young minds don’t think out of the box? Why are we scared of dream catchers, rebels, thinkers, philosophers, poets, artists? Aren’t ideas/cultures/narratives all about evolving? Where does critical thinking figure in our political/social/cultural narratives? Who are these people who are jumping into conclusions without even discussing?

#   I am not even talking about doctored videos, fake voices. I am not talking about somebody offering Rs 5 lakh for cutting off Kanhaiya’s tongue? Or posters offering Rs 11 lakh to anybody who will shoot Kanhaiya. And who were these masked people shouting slogans in JNU? Why can’t our state machinery/apparatus put a face and name to them?

#  Three of my close friends have lived a life of ‘the other’ in this country. My soul sister is from Manipur and she lived in Delhi for more than 15 years. All through her Delhi years, she was seen as a ‘Nepali’. But never as an Indian. House owners in mainstream India shut doors on her face when she went to pay the deposit money because they couldn’t possibly give the house on rent to a Chinese/Nepali/Chinky. Her face became her greatest enemy. She became ‘the other’ in her own country.  My friend ‘M’ is a Kashmiri Pandit who has lost her home in the valley. She mourns the loss of her beautiful land which now hides behind a veil of pain, anguish. Her voice chokes when she talks of her Kashmir yet she says she feels a sense of joy and warmth when she meets an elderly Kashmiri Muslim woman in a phiran in Delhi. She says time has stood still for her as she can’t connect with today’s Kashmir. Another close friend who’s a Muslim feels like an outsider in the land he loves dearly and warmly. His young daughter was traumatized for days when she was called a ‘Pakistani’ in the school.  I can’t understand urban India’s obsession with Pakistan. Pakistan is not my benchmark so far as the ethos and imagination of a nation is considered. I am sure many will agree with me.  Why should I celebrate a monolithic nation?  India with its vibrant democracy, multi-culturalism, diversity is closest to my heart.

#  Post his release on conditional bail, Kanhaiya Kumar became a prime-time hero thanks to his earthy, fiery, witty speech.  His speech appeared as front page lead in many newspapers. In the times of 24×7 channels and social media, he suddenly became the flavor of the day. ‘Azadi’ became the word of the season. For some, spring suddenly felt more enticing, more young, more beautiful. Was his speech a ground-breaking one which would go down in history?  I will suggest restraint. Let us not go overboard. As a student of JNU (in the 90s), I have heard equally soul-stirring, fiery, political speeches by young student leaders. There were no 24×7 channel television then to beam those speeches across the nation. There were no twitter trending hashtags then. Let us not become a desperate nation looking for momentary heroes or anti-heroes. Let us look at the larger canvas of nation building. Let us think of a nation that gives a fabulous world class education and medical facilities to its poor and marginalized. I liked it when Kanhaiya said in one of his TV interviews, “Speeches alone don’t make for political leadership.” The struggle has to go on. And the toughness of the struggle ahead will decide who is what.  The struggle ahead will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Let truth prevail. Let our young and old minds celebrate ‘azadi’.  Let the young think, imagine, feel and work for those who still can’t afford to study in this beautiful institute of learning in the last range of Arravalis.