bombay

Men like ants

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Wasn’t what happened in Bangalore assumed to be only limited to the new pussy grabbing America?

Or wait, maybe these men were just following the world order of aping the West? 

But, aren’t we very simple and cultured Indians?

So? They still can. 

Why? 

Duh! Because they are men and they can.

Ummm, okay but, not all men behave like that I think. These were some stupid ones I think. They were just drunk… But, then doesn’t Abu Azmi say that ALL women like sugar and ALL men like ants? If he is in power, then he must be speaking the gospel truth right? ‘Cause it is ONLY honesty that makes you a cop or a politician? Only the regular people are dishonest aren’t they? Oh sorry, it is the women’s fault. They got too liberated because of these stupid liberals. Those women should have known their place. Where is that, you ask? Inside the walls of patriarchy but, of course!

Till today it is difficult for me to believe that the city where I spent two of the most wonderful years of my life witnessed such an atrocity. It was that city that had sent me back to my home state with a set of very uncomfortable questions. It was that city that was safe to be traveled in buses as opposed to Delhi. Only once in 2 years did I witness lecherous behaviour there and heard of a few. I brushed it off assuming that where we were was, after all suburban Bangalore, where a serial rapist and murdered had escaped from the state jail. Such things were okay to be heard of or read about in suburban or rural areas or as many spell out the names of Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan – the last one, especially, with a strange smile that asked too many intrusive questions without uttering a single word. But, now it has happened in a very central part of a growing cosmopolitan city. When a photo journalist was raped in a mill compound in Mumbai, it was again forgotten quickly since she was alone and they were ‘illiterate, north Indian men’ who do such things often. But, now Bangalore and the numerous protectors of women’s modesty, the owners of open spaces in the society did something unimaginable.

I can only imagine by a little ounce of what those women must have felt as 2017 dawned and they found many, many city dwellers, maybe quite a few ‘educated ones’, act as if these women were nothing but, stupid toys that could be flung here and there or maybe lab rats that could be poked here and there and just observed.

I am not saying that the northern part of the country is heaven or is even in some twisted competition against the south / east / west in its sex ratio or data of (ill)treatment of women. Living in Bombay, I have seen an amazing number of cases of harassment, stalking, sexism at workplaces than what was combined in Jaipur, Delhi and Bangalore. I will also say that I had the fortune of being told that I am a girl and need to behave accordingly very few times in my life. Even when I was, thankfully, I knew better. However, that is not the case for so so many of my friends who told me that feminism or belief of total gender equality are things to be read in books but, compromised with when out in the real world. What do I say of the the vast majority of unknown female Indians.

Why I did not pay as much attention to the media, nor did I get passionately angry like I know myself to get at the hands of injustice of any kind is because somewhere deep down, I have been conditioned to accept that such things happen and we can only fight our own petty battles, that even when some people are caught, people are going to go back home and still make this world entitled to the male sex. What is needed is a cultural shift and a consciousness of thought, speech and action. It is each human’s responsibility and I believe that the ‘change’ or the equality of gender can be brought in only through attitudinal shifts in understanding that the one with a vagina is a human being at the end of the day. Formal education does not guarantee any change. I have been dealt sexism at the hands of the smartest (well educated) men and women – even those who shout out for creating an equal world.

What does this say to you? What kind of world are we living in? Grabbing them by the pussy or by the breasts or even dragging them by the hair. Haven’t we learnt better?

If it is religion you follow, seeking the principled Ram and his conduct with his wife, also remember Durga. Religion, philosophy is what we choose to believe in at that crucial moment when all we have to behave as is a human being.

To the men who read this and cringe saying not all men think like this, I would just say that its quite good on you if you dont but, every time you see a woman pass by, I hope you dont eye her as if she is grilled meat no matter what she wears. I hope you dont cut through what a woman might be saying at work in a meeting to just repeat what she said a minute back. I hope you dont judge a woman based on her relationship status or sex life and her position of power in the workplace. I hope you don’t feel slightly crestfallen when someday your first born is a daughter. I hope you dont tell her that some things are not meant for her. I hope you share such ideals of yours with other men around you and raise a son who follows all of this and treats a person simply as a human being without being biased with whats between their legs.

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Thank you, 2016!

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Its been a month since I have posted (and published) something on here. I have tried writing different things but, chose to keep them private for the sake of better understanding and soaking in of those ideas before putting them on here. Out of the many things that I have wanted to write, one was the hopelessness of the times and the horrifying sense of disbelief and disillusionment that my generation is burdened by as a result of incident occurring in the matter of a few hours.

Now, I am not the most cynical person I know and I am the last to crib about things, however bad the situation might be but, I too have vented out my anger in the past month on a certain national decision. So, when I thought of writing about disillusionment, youth (these two words sound very literally paradoxical when placed side by side) and the times that lie ahead; I could not write much beyond a rant that sums up the unfair business that is the global machine. But, I also believe that mere ranting does not change anything. What would be best, I believe, is a balanced view on everything – one can at least try even if it seems difficult.

The best thing that happened to me this past year was a sort of awakening to feminism as a belief system. This year has taught me what feminism means to me and how essential it is for each human being to understand what the word means. I have, like most people I know, always known the literal meaning of the word, understood what the theoretical aspects of the beliefs were but, it is another ball game to look at the world through the eyes of a seeker of gender equality, where even the smallest of ignorance or bias is not brushed off as something that always happens. Until this year, I had been conditioned beautifully to conveniently (and maybe organically?) sweep small traces of sexism under the proverbial carpet. But, suddenly I found the dust bunny under the same carpet to have swollen in size well enough to trip me. It was therefore, time to clean out the dirt. I do believe that I am privileged when it comes to my access to good education, lots of internet and literature etc. but, this year, I truly understood and actively applied the difference between theory and practice. However, the process that happened over this years was quite organic. I, honestly never realised how I had become the person that I am today.

This realisation happened when I decided to work out in my head the reasons I disliked certain people around me or even the American TV show FRIENDS and now, Bollywood and film personalities.

This thought process started off when I turned to look at the latest posters stuck on a BEST bus when it passed by me and found a very gaudy looking poster of Indian Idol. Now, I did enjoy it when watching it with my mother when younger. I remember laughing at those auditions, cringing at Anu Malik and finding Farah Khan a strong-ish figure. Right now, I am unsure who all feature on this recent season but, I remember cringing at the tonnes of smoothened Photoshop and make up on the faces. While I did judge the industry for being superficial etc. but, then I stopped that realising that it is, at the end of the day, a business and no audience accepts grey haired singers and women who don’t make them laugh if they are not slim. I was saddened by the hypocrisy of our society and momentarily felt a little bit of sympathy for them.

Not too long after that, I decided to watch a show called ‘Koffee with Karan’. Yes, I did. Why? Because I wanted to go back to that space of ignorant appreciation momentarily, that time as a child when nothing mattered beyond the screen but, the more time ticked on that episode, the more I found myself upset and agitated. Something had changed, I had changed but, was I being snooty like many of those here, in choosing to cringe upon Bollywood while looking at Hollywood like a lovestruck pet.

Watching two episodes of KWK told me that it was the process of evolution as a feminist that had made me “intolerant” of crass entertainment. Why feminism? That’s because someone like Karan Johar who advocates himself as a very liberal, tolerant persona (by writing an open letter to the haters who comment on his Instagram account that he is gay and that he should not pout), still chooses to ask female actors questions of a very private nature digging more so on the personal lives, their personalities, their appearances while the male actors are spoken to off money, homes, girls, ambition etc. No, they do not say things blatantly like “women need to be pretty etc.” and “men need to be blah blah”. No, that doesn’t happen but, there’s something eerie about the way the host’s persona changes when talking to 3 men who came together and then 2 women who came on a later episode. (If you’re on it, I think you should watch the two episodes back to back to understand what I am saying.) Why that is a problem because, like a female actor put it, the Indian audiences look at the show as the place where celebrities speak “the gospel truth”. When that happens, then in the minds of the audiences as well, the personalities of the female actors shrinks to their bodies, their make up, their hatred for other women and their relationships. The men are bracketed into larger beings who are all accommodating, decision makers and practical thinkers who don’t get emotional! What? For a man who pouts on Instagram, this is how he reinforces his liberal belief systems about gender and sex? In this season in particular, the two female actors seemed to gel a lot and are actually new generation people who think a lot and rationalise everything as human beings and not as bodies with breasts and oestrogen. However, the more they spoke their minds, the more they were mocked (lightly, of course!) as being boring and tiring to talk to. So, basically, reinstate the fact that women ought to not have thought and opinions while men can rant and joke about their ex-wives? Hmm.

Why I thank 2016 is because the year has given me bagfuls of opportunities to deal with sexism in all possible forms – blatant misogyny, subtle remarks of the inabilities of women to do this and that and then the slyest one where the perpetrator of sexism comes in the shape of smart, well informed and well spoken people who always speak of working to bring about gender equality in their own ways.

To sum it up, my distaste for Bollywood comes from the simple inaction on the behalf of the most influential people in the country to change their own attitudes and speak of them then. While the industry is making films like Parched (that receives little mention, little theatre running time and little business), it is also making films like Sultan that crossed 100 crores revenue marker in the first weekend. Even someone like Amir Khan who was earning huge respect from the slightly more informed section of the Indian audience, ends up praising Salman Khan’s Sultan that basically has a man wanting to become a wrestler to woo his crush and then the said girl giving up on her ambition for him. While yes, some women can choose that but, to glorify that sacrifice of a woman’s ambition in a country like ours that already expects it to be the case is outright irresponsible and stupid. And then, Amir Khan too fell in the bin with the likes of the others for me. True, Satyamev Jayate did feel like another publicity gimmick.

I would end this with just one thought – the struggle that humanity faces is because we all choose to and are conditioned to believe that certain things and situations in the world are fixed and that in front of those things and situations, we are powerless. Probably thats the case with Bollywood as well where they believe that they will run into losses if they only produced films like Parched. However, the US elections and demonetisation and the Middle Eastern situation are enough proofs that no thing or situation is permanent and as individuals we have the power to change things. I could do it at my sexist workplace and so can anyone on the face of this planet.

PS: I will write later on my dislike for FRIENDS and why no one must watch it. In the end, would again thank all those exemplars of sexism and patriarchy for making me grow. I hope you do to.

Culture 

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 Lalbaug cha Raja, Mumbai, 2014.

What is religion and what is culture? Our understanding and opinion of the same is changing everyday and will continue to do so as time passes. As I write this today, I am witnessing, for the third time, the phenomenon of Ganapati in Mumbai, India. Anyone who has grown up in the country and watched a little bit of Bollywood would know the importance and charm that the festival of Ganapati’s birth (marked by Ganesh Chaturthi) and eventual immersion holds. Having lived in two other parts and three other cities of the country, I can say that there is no other place in the country that celebrates the festival with such oomph.

Before moving here and watching a Bollywood flick called Agneepath roughly four years back, I remember making a mental note to be in the city during Ganapati at least once in my life. Lo and behold, it has become three but, now during the third time the charm seems to be slowly wearing off. I am trying to retrieve it from the recesses of my heart hoping that it might be hidden somewhere underneath the pressures of daily life but, all I see is a momentary thump and tap on the beats of the drums and songs followed by a swift running away with hands on my ears the very next minute.

“Have I become and intolerant waysider?”, I ask myself, scared of receiving an answer in the affirmative.

But, the answer comes in an elaborate questioning of culture and religion and the precarious religious influence on culture. This time around the pandal of Ganesha statues was right next to the building where I stay. Since I am on the first floor, sight and sound came with full intensity. At the start of the festival, what started off as excitement of the upcoming festival turned into a daily nightmare. When done with the day’s work, I longed to be home but, also resented being home since the productive hours of the evening and night would go into dealing with thumping bass from DJ sets, loud breathless singing of aartis, and then even louder music.

Disclaimer – I have lived near Parel before this, close to the home of Siddhivinayak, so not that I did not expect this but, yes, experienced it at a much closer hand this time since the earlier building was a tall tower where my room was conveniently tucked on a higher floor.

Anyway, cutting on my rant, what I am left with at the end of the festival is a question around boundaries between culture, religion and blind following of rituals. I personally do not believe in praying to some external entity and hoping for things to move but, I also understand and respect when others have belief in a God. I also believe that such festivals are also an integral part of our culture – Mumbai wouldn’t be Mumbai without Ganpati madness and Kolkata wouldn’t be so without the gorgeousness of Pujo. However, my question here is – how do we justify following what a god says and believe that we are truly following his / her belief systems, if we fail to take responsibility for the impact that our actions might create on people and other beings in our surroundings. Question is, when someone points out the unnecessary pollution – both water and noise – that these events create, will we harass and bully the, saying the are eco-friendly idols as well and that the questioner is just another adarsh liberal talking about unIndian ideas; or will we pause, think and rework our celebration activities starting next year? I see the youth handling things for the celebrations in most societies. If the youth cannot believe that they can change things or that the way things have to be done culturally has to be adapted to the changes of times, then we better dread what our future would look like.

The last one

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The most fun as well as amusing part of having an anon tumblog was the interactions with various poets, writers and readers over questions. Some would share their own tumblogs while the others would be anon, just like me. Why I like it more is because that enables observation and experience of a kind of objectivity in one’s expression, which otherwise is tainted by one bias or the other.

During one such interaction, I received a question from a reader which went as follows:

“Who would you write your last poem to? What would it be?”

When I first read it, I figured that this was a question to be mulled over, brewing thoughts and experiences and then answering. However, it did not take me more than two minutes to come up with this response, as if I was waiting to tell someone, lest I never get the chance.

“Hmm. This is the first time anyone’s asked me this. I wonder will there ever be a last? I may die the day I stop writing or I may stop writing the day I die. I would prefer the latter. 

I am not sure if I have the answer yet however, if I were writing the last right now I would write to this character in my head. Here it goes,

Have we met before?
Did we talk?
I remember your face,
Only vaguely so.

Did you say something?
Why can’t I hear you though?

The flush of your cheeks
and that twinkle in the eye
does give away your secrets.
Stories of joy and sorrow,
Tales of love untold.

Smile a little more for me,
smile a little for
this will be my last memory.”

Bombay

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Bombay, 2014.

I have abstained from choosing any emotion for this city in order to avoid any kind of thoughts all together for the worry of not being happy. I knew thats stupid but, thats how I coped.

I believe I have a tremendously intense love and hate for this city altogether. The love comes from the liberation of thought and being and the hate comes from the city snatching away that same reason for love from right under your nose – almost reminds me of the Joker.

The city has truly made me question the meaning of freedom day in, day out and I can safely say that I have understood and learnt quite a lot. One imagines that one has all the freedom of thought, freedom of being here in the city of dreams which is the only and true hybrid assimilation of population from all over the country (and outside). I swear there is a whole parade of people who become extremely happy at the idea of being able to wear anything, to walk out anytime of the day, to do anything you want! I am sure I have been there too and continue to be in love for the space that the city gives to you to just be. That might be one good reason to keep me here ‘cause being answerable comes with a lot of difficulty.

But, the hate for the city; a sudden fit of blinding rage, comes only from the games that fate plays with people here. Very blindly thinking, the level to which the dignity of life is brought down to in a city like this brings a wave of anger and sadness that topples over everything else at times. One believes one is free and looking at the place one has come from, one is definitely free-er than that but, freedom is again subjective to power here.

These thoughts were churned back when I visited Madhya Pradesh after long recently. It wasn’t surprising to me how easily I fit in with people there; talking as if I’ve always done that and mind you, I do not do that very easily here ‘cause everyone’s too busy talking about Snapchat, or a trip to Lavasa / Lonavala / *insert other places nearby*, or a check in, or a weekend plan, or a new bakery / club / bar / pub / resort / gallery show / conference blah blah. Its not that I judge without knowing them or anything. I have tried to tolerate and understand if there was actually something fun or new or value creating there. But, as they say one must trust one’s gut, I realise I was right the first time around. I don’t connect with people of the times simply because I don’t see the point in snapping / tweeting everything that you do or think. Maybe thats why this tumblog suffered my disillusioned state or as a friend would have said “disenchantment” with the world and its ways.

In the end, I would again be politically correct and say that I have zero emotion for Bombay because thoughts change like everything in this city – I would say that if only, I am appreciative of what possibilities this city brings out in people’s minds hoping that one would understand that it is only the self and not anything else that brings all the joy as well as the grief.

The Lady in White

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Had this scene in mind with a faint idea of a poem since January 2014. Sometimes the scene came out but, the words didn’t and sometimes the words were fine while the scene didn’t match. Finally sketched this the other night. Text below:


I had seen her every morning,

The lady in white;

Trudging along the pavement.

She would be constantly mumbling.

Maybe, she saw someone?

I would peer at her through the 

White lace of mother’s curtains, 

My heart thumping with fear – 

What if she saw me?

I was eight then. 

I left home.

I heard she died one morning,

How did they figure out, you ask?

She wasn’t seen mumbling, 

hollow eyes darting, trudging along 

for a week.

They say the stench traveled

Till the end of the road.

Why didn’t they go earlier, you ask?

Pope says, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’.

I still dream of her

at times.

No, she doesn’t haunt me with

Those empty eyes.

It is the emptiness of her life

That kills me now.


Was reminded of this sort of incomplete poem written a few months ago while talking to a friend about the idea of loneliness tonight. I remember writing this with the thought alienation that an urban life can bring in at times weighing on my mind – the desire to connect with human beings but, the simultaneous hesitation and mistrust to do that ultimately failing to recognise that we are a religious, casteist, regional group later but, a ‘human’ community first.

The concept of loneliness used to be pretty alien (as well as pretty scary) to me earlier especially while doing a project on it for an Archaeology class back in 2012. I remember the five of us dwelling on the concept of loneliness and what people resort to as a coping mechanism. We covered the likes of art as a way of venting out to addiction as another escape. While the former can be cathartic in a way, the latter has worse consequences by way of slowly taking away ‘life’ from a person. Of course, what one implies by ‘life’ can be rather subjective. Precisely why I chose not to dwell on the reason why addiction as a way of dealing with loneliness is not the best idea. I couldn’t really point out which part of the subjective answers to ‘what is life?’ I related to.

However, talking to this one friend today I realise that life means to have the will to move ahead – a step a day maybe, but to move ahead. And I say this not in the ‘move-ahead-only-career-wise’ way of thought (can take it as that too if one pleases) but, essentially to keep pushing oneself to grow as a human being a step a day. Sounds vague? Maybe. But, in each one of us is a tendency (or many tendencies) which makes one unhappy. The will to change that trying harder every time one feels defeated is the essence of life.

Where does loneliness fit in all this? Loneliness stems from the occasional or regular lack of the desire to be better every day. When lonely and lacking in this desire one would loop in that constant feeling of self pity (and anger maybe?) that grabs the focus of the mind so strongly that one cannot think of anything but, being lonely and miserable and unfortunate; totally, forgetting that one is an independent entity with one’s own choices and to choose to not grow and learn is what brings the stagnation that is loneliness.

From BCT

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A friend with memory almost as sharp as mine asked me to describe how he looked when we had first met. The said test for my memory was only because I mentioned that I remembered him wearing an orange t-shirt the first time we had met. After passing the said test, he responded by saying that my memory is a curse.

Of course there have been times when it has been so both, for me and others around. For a minute, remembering all the not – so – good ones, I did imagine that it might be a curse someday! But then, I think its all in the perspective. Life and talents and characteristics all add up to be what you want them to be.

Recently, I put the ‘curse’ to another good use. In the train that I take in the evenings, a hijra called Saira gets in at Bombay Central and out at Lower Parel. She isn’t really pretty in the regular sense of pretty but, has the most beautiful big almond shape eyes that I have seen since my father’s. She somehow has never asked me for money but, makes it a point to look for a second longer and smile before getting into her routine of asking for money and blessing women. Every time before getting off the train, she does touch my head to bless me and walks on.

Like everyone else I know with regular memories or fading memories or those in denial that they remember, I assumed she might have forgotten my face too in the almost a month of being away. The other day when she got in again she quickly gave me the usual smile and asked if all was well at home. She remembered and cared enough to think that I might be missing because I might have gone back to my gaon.

Memory is only a reflection of the openness to or acceptance of the life that you’ve left behind, I think. Yes, scientists and people quoting from random academic papers might counter me but, I can choose not to remember their counters now.