India

What is High Functioning Depression?

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One term that has stuck with me for a while now has been ‘bastardise’. Funny, you would say. But, I think it is an important idea (if not the term), to keep in mind when speaking about anything that is a trend on social media – feminism or mental health awareness. I use the term bastardise because thats what I feel bigger media houses with corporate money end up doing to ideas that mean something fundamental. Remember the ‘My Choice’ video? Yes, thats bastardising feminism and women’s empowerment with a  few token women from rural India making it to the cut.

Anyway, I have been fearful of bastardising the depression and mental health for the fear of making both too trivial by writing about them. After a lot of thought and encouraged by a campaign #LetsTalk by Youth Ki Awaaz, I decided to write about it and see how it comes out. I was sure that if it was crappy, I will not share it. However, going by the numerous people suffering from anxiety, depressive tendencies, mood swings and depression, as a writer and a survivor of depression and anxiety, I felt it would be terrible to not share to maybe, bring light to an issue that I got aware of only when I found myself suffering because of it and hopefully, this would help the reader understand what they or people around them could be going through.

The original post can be found here. Sharing the same below:

I believe that the scenario of mental health awareness in India is much better than it was some seven or eight years back. Depression and mental health are finally being recognised by celebrities and public figures – Deepika Padukone, the founder of The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLF), being a prime example. Some of them have even opened up and provided first-person accounts of their struggles with depression. Using a first person narrative, I would like to focus on the issue of perceptions of mental health and depression through this piece.

I had first shown signs of mild depression when I was a student. Even while suffering from this, I fulfilled the roles of a daughter, friend, classmate and student. During this time, only one friend (whose boyfriend is a psychologist) expressed concern about my well being worried that there was something up. It’s not that I had stopped eating or studying. It was just that I had started suffering from a lack of concentration which was a rarity in my case. I was okay at most times but, as soon as I found myself alone, my state of mind would just dip without any certain cause. I also took to smoking regularly whenever, I would be in a dip. That also embarrassed me and made me feel ashamed and guilty as I really didn’t want to smoke but, felt that that was my only escape. Whenever I could hide from the world, I would smoke a minimum of three cigarettes.

I questioned myself and tried to understand what had changed over the year. I constantly asked myself what was happening to me and why I felt that my life was worthless, whenever I was alone. I set out to understand what was happening to me. When I googled the cause for everything I was going through, I realised that I may have been suffering from depression. Surely, I could not fall into depression, right? If I was, then how was I studying, eating and being a friend and daughter – all at the same time? Didn’t people say that being depressed meant being completely non-functional? I immediately shut my laptop and brushed the possibility aside.

Rain ☔️ Inspired by a series of artists' portrayal of what #depression looks like. I'm sure most of us have experienced depressive moods at a point in time, or known people going through it. You can check out the series on @boredpanda. Prompt for today was chosen by me. Met people who are really living with dark clouds hovering over not just their heads but, filling up their hearts. The more number of newer people I'm meeting these days, the more I feel that the national data is too, too low about the number of people suffering from this. I've seen it around in more ways than one and can only say that there's always hope, even in the bleakest of situations. Even when you're in that dark space in the recesses of your being, you will come out of it. From my personal count of people, 7 out of 10 suffer from depression or anxiety and you're not alone. Talk to someone, eat well, paint, create something or go to the therapist if you want but, know that you'll come out sooner or later. Please don't give up. #rain #mentalhealth #india #wellness #hope #art #artist #illustration #ink #sketch

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Another year down the line, I got a job and moved to a city where I suddenly found myself all alone. Moreover, this experience proved to completely different from the five years I had spent away from my home and parents. I was now an adult, but I had no friends to lean on to in a city which was completely alien to me. Here, I was hit by another bout of depression and anxiety. I used to be on top of my game at work, where I used to laugh and talk with my colleagues every day. However, in the evenings, I would sit quietly in my room doing nothing.

Gradually, I lost interest in reading, writing and other activities. Cooking also became too big a chore for me. It was around this time that I also sought help for the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) I was suffering from. Since it was homeopathic, it focused on working with the psychological causes of my hormonal imbalance and helped me get better even though I was still in denial of depression.

I was lucky to have found some beautiful friends and a life philosophy, which started pulling me out of my depression somehow making me feel that I could do it. Today, I can say that I am completely okay but, it has taken my acceptance, understanding and efforts to not succumb. Of course, there are days when I find myself in a low, but, I am now able to bounce back.

The reason why I decided to share my story is to highlight a few important things about depression and mental health. The first point concerns the demystification of depression. When one talks about depression, one usually associates it with something as blatant as madness or something akin to a disability or dysfunctionality. These are the reasons why I denied that I was suffering from depression. The taboos of societal perception of depression made me fear being looked down upon or being non-functional in society. We forget that there are degrees to depression and even if it is severe, it always has a cure – it is not a disability.

The second topic that I want to talk about concerns what is known as high-functioning depression. I came across this phrase only when I was out of the pits. In my opinion, people suffering from ‘high-functioning depression’ are more prone to danger and high in number, because of society’s lack of acceptance and their own lack of an understanding of depression. I feel this is very dangerous because it bottles up issues (which should be addressed) due to misconceptions or shame. Over time, these bottled-up issues can turn into ticking bombs!

In order to resolve a problem or to cure an illness, diagnosis is the first step. Even in cases of severe depression, the first step towards healing is recognising and accepting the reality of depression. Of course, the struggle is intense what with the small numbers of professionals understanding of the issue and even smaller number that continues to understand the reality of the person suffering from it and work with them with the conviction that depression is curable, it is just a chemical imbalance. However, I feel that there have many discussions on these topics. The reason why I chose to speak about high-functioning depression is because it is a side of depression and mental health that is rarely discussed, but is regularly affecting more Indian youth like me.

I say this because when I was going through the phase, I did not recognise and identify what I was going through. A lot of my symptoms would show in spurts on a much lower scale. Back then, I used to feel that it was just another struggle in my life, and that was all! During the days when I used to be really low, my mind would only interpret it as one of those days on which I would have to struggle through, trying to find a ray of hope.

The gravity of it all struck me when I shared a little of my past struggles with a friend and colleague of mine, over lunch. After listening to me wide-eyed, he responded with a tone of surprise, saying that he could not believe what I was going through, while being an excellent worker and interacting with my colleagues as if I had no troubles in life.

In retrospect, I think the other factor that contributes to this not being recognised is the depravity perpetrated by social media and other means of communication. I am not against technology or the amazing facilities of Skype or Twitter. However, excess of anything is harmful. This is also true in the case of social media and other means of communication.

Today, in the bigger cities, people tend to stay in offices during the week and then hang out with friends or stay in their homes during the weekend. In such a setup, face-to-face conversations are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Friends now mainly talk over WhatsApp or Facebook. Every social outing is checked in on Facebook and then posted on Instagram.

With such a culture and the increased migration of youth to bigger cities (for work) – possibly without friends or families at close hand – social media turns out to be the sole means of communication in many cases. Psychologically, social media is linked with instant gratification and happiness, which fizzles out once the phone or app is switched off. It is no wonder therefore that people with depression isolate themselves even further when they see people posting happy-making pictures on social media. For me, it was easier to be proficient at my work, because I didn’t have to divulge my worries and emotional issues to the people around.

I think it is important to not brush off people’s worries or emotions as nothing. In fact, such an attitude only decreases the self-respect of such people. Getting brushed off by a friend or a senior can only increase the sense of isolation and self-hatred in people suffering with depression, which can spiral even further.

One also needs to be aware of issues concerning mental health to recognise people who are silently suffering from depression. I would urge all readers to read up on depression and not base your perceptions on what you see in films or hear from other people.

Generally, we tend to normalise depression in a manner that belittles the victim. On the other hand, we also portray depression as a horror that one should be excessively aware of. I think both perceptions are equally damaging. The more informed we are about depression, the more we will able to help people cope with depression, and also demystify it in the process.

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.

Money, money…no money!

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In all this demonetisation hullabaloo, I have tried real hard to refrain from writing about it. Why? Because I feared feeling like a hypocrite to myself complaining about something that does not affect me much. Yes, it does not ’cause of a little salaried income that gets spent easily since I stay in the most expensive city in the country and more so, because I have the privileges of accessing net banking facilities of a highly powerful bank – even if at a small price, since I prefer that to ATM withdrawals.

I also did not want to write anything ’cause I was overwhelmed. I had had enough of the newsfeed on Facebook with opinions all kinds and people bashing each other in distress and social media egoism along with people globally mourning over Trump’s victory. Suddenly, everything turned from bad to worse and add terrible theatrics to it. But, this was until I spoke with the cleaning lady who comes to sweep, mop floors, wash utensils and hand-wash clothes to my apartment. Though she seems to have planned well in terms of cash kept at home since her husband has been falling sick often and she feels secure but, she says she does have a bundle of 500 rupee notes which will have to be exchanged. As we spoke, I developed a more practical insight into the matter.

To me at first, the demonetisation did seem like a viable step which was done towards a more progressive goal as going cashless is safer and more convenient for those like me. Unsure about the heroic ‘fighting terrorism’ claim. However, thinking more leaves me with a lot of questions.

  1. How does one define black money when calling this a surgical strike on black money? Who has this money when most of the country’s populace is an adarsh man willing to lay himself down for the nation?
  2. Where do the funders of our hero’s campaign fall? Don’t tell me they have all ‘white’ money! They do? Wow.
  3. Why can there not be more than two and a half lakhs in cash savings in someone’s house / cash register?
  4. Do they think this is the “shop floor” level developed state of roads, oops, Gujarat?
  5. Is this a democracy or a dictatorship that has to direct how I handle my money, even with the meagre salary?
  6. Why was decision taken in such sudden secrecy and announced by the hero of the Indian telly that is Indian polity now, instead of the FM?
  7. More importantly, why was this done without any appropriate survey on the daily expenses of an avg Indian. The person from that random think tank who allegedly suggested that since most of India’s population lives in rural areas, expenses there are upto INR 20 per day. I have had the opportunity to work where I have dealt with people from the informal sector – rural and urban – the same people who have been badly hit by the heroics of a certain man. They spend INR 100 on avg per day. Even if it was INR 20, what about medical expenses, any other sudden expenses? What do they pay in? Credit?
  8. What is this nation that “the poor are ready to sacrifice” for?
  9. Why do even ‘educated’ people around me not accept that nationalism is nothing but, a dated concept. We needed it (globally) when the concept was adopted. Today, with blurred borders, nationalism is limited to your passport and not to who you are. We are all global citizens, being indifferent about global issues is not a practical choice today.
  10. Why do we Indians need a hero? Why can’t we handle our shit on our own? Why do we feel so helpless? I know most people have difficulties and struggles but, the ‘poor’ cannot change their destinies till they continue to shun the responsibility of change on one central figure by quickly ducking the ball stating that they are helpless. When talking to my help (Manisha), this clearly came across. She is a super smart woman but, is limited by this very thought – I am a poor woman, what do I know? She voted for BJP and then says but, they are all thieves. What does the poor know, what change can the poor bring? She has 3 sons – all educated and looking for a better life. But, unfortunately, today a better life or standard of living is defined by what products (clothes, electronics, food) one consumes. There goes the education down the drain!
  11. Is this emotional drama (our hero has left his family for the nation) the reason why saas bahut serials are still the rage in India?
  12. Why can my fellow country people see divide and rule happening to us again? Earlier it was Hindus versus Muslims (yes, thats still there) but, now its black money hoarders versus ummm, the deshbhakt martyr poor? The funders of the fantastic hero’s PR still sleep peacefully.
  13. Lastly, does anyone – bank employees who work overtime, workers and labourers and many like Manisha who will stand in lines for over two hours for a small withdrawal in this expensive city – get compensated for the losses? A loss of 3 hours (on a work day for most people who are daily wage workers) is a loss of pay. Will they reap the benefits in this lifetime or will that be witnessed by some generation in a world that might not even exist – courtesy, climate change?

I do hope that this gets resolved soon and there is a compensation mechanism or at least a better execution of policies designed. And more importantly, that people now start questioning, understanding, taking charge and that we get better and more options to vote for in the next general elections.

Little

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Inktober 2016 day 22’s prompt was little. Like always, an image is formed in the mind and this time it was the pinky finger, the little finger. Why I did not draw that is because not only the time spent on it would be too short but, more importantly, the intention with Inktober is to push the wheels of my brain a little to resonate within the mind, what each prompt would mean.

I started off with the traces of a discussion I had had with a friend of mine. We spoke of how the grandness of nature, Athirapally in particular here, makes one feel so insignificant, so little that all one feels is the power of nature and surrenders to it. The last time I had felt like that was when spending time in the Himalayan mountains. The image that flashed in the head was that of the grandness of the snow clad peaks where everything else seemed too small, too little to think about.

But, it has been some time that I have gone back to those places of wonder and sitting afar in this part of the country all that comes to mind when thinking about it is the LOC, the attacks, terrorism, fear, crisis and war. I had, as a kid, honestly assumed that post the second world war, there would be no war at all. I know that was naive and we can safely say that peace and harmony are far away for a LOT of our “brothers and sisters”. I remember in the innocence of childhood when we would sing the national anthem and read about Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Tagore and Bose, I would be in awe of these figures who contributed to the nationalist movement back in time. But, the reason that I was in awe of them all was not for defending a certain bordered geography against another country. No, that was never it. I respected, honoured and treasured what I read about them, these heroes and heroines, because of their courage to stand up against inhuman treatments meted out to people of this land who were being tortured and made to feel less human owing to their colour and race. These people stood up for their people who were suffering due to racism. If you look at it objectively, like now back then too, the reason for those acts of cruelty were economic and political power and the subsequent tussle.

But, I wonder today, what is this power that still does not seem to let peace prevail in this land. I am an Indian and I see it just as a part of my identity. When I see fellow Indians walking on the streets, I do not think of them as Bengalis or South Indians or Punjabis – honestly, I am pathetic at guessing people’s “native” and also their age – but, I see them just as Indians. So, what is nationalism today? Why is it being looked at as a necessary “Hindu pride” and why is it also being looked at as “something I don’t wish to associate with” on the other hand? Isn’t Indian pride about not being divided based on principles and beliefs and just accepting the differences? When songs of Indian past and pride on it are sung, why do we forget that all nationalist movement happened to defend humanity and not anyone’s ego or greed?

I think I will leave this unfinished at this point and share the poem that I wrote for this doodle:

Little by little

I see it change, this land 

that I call my home.

Little by little,

the snow melts, not into

waters gleaming but, pools of red.

Little by little,

the cracks in doors 

shut in my face as I peer in to say hello.

Little by little,

the cracks in my heart

widen as smiles grow taut.

 

Now trending: Feminism

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It is indeed a mystic thing that around the time that the movie Pink came out, I got to experience what is called the inability to comprehend the meaning of consent, body space and respect when it comes to sex even in the minds of those who seem well educated and believers in equal rights for all sexes.

I’ve known someone (male) who has been very vocal about respect and body rights of women and also those who from the sexual minorities – sometimes voicing a hatred for men. This particular dynamic of social development is of interest to me as well. However, I haven’t been as vocal or as expressive about knowing stuff as him. I assumed that’s just difference in personality.

Now, being a woman, one easy thing that comes due to our social conditioning which eventually gets passed on genetically as well, is the sixth sense; the gut feeling of knowing when someone can be a potential sexual threat.

I do not say I thought he was coming on to women or being lecherous. For most women who know him – and a lot of the people that surround him are women – he’s a gentle and nice guy who has his head on his shoulders when talking about gender politics. However, there was always this gnawing feeling I had – which I articulate today – that something wasn’t right about him. Somewhere his alleged beliefs weren’t what they were projected as. I let go of this feeling since we have two very good common friends.

Time went by, we all grew up and went our separate ways. He met someone and got into a relationship and constantly asked about my story or why do I not find someone. Then, I took it as a friendly concern and didn’t feel that it was totally against his ‘women are awesome and equal and don’t need anyone to be happy’ claims.

We have spoken twice in 6 months with him asking about who I am with as the central part of the conversation each time; more focused on my virginity. Now, virginity for me isn’t a coconut to be cracked before something new has to be begun nor is it a gold coin (biscuit, if you may please) that should never be lost. Virginity is just a secondary part of me. It is not something I think about day in day out, nor do I plan any milestones around it. It is simply something which isn’t a consideration in my mind in the daily life. So when he first asked me this, I assumed that this was again a friendly question, that he was just trying to be ‘Gossip Girl’.

Six months later, the poor soul is still battling with this existential question.  I again did not mind ’cause it’s not a hush hush conversation for me. However, what came next told me that putting a foot in my mouth and a slap on his face were the two best things to do.

He asked me if I needed his help to loose my virginity, in case I am still one. Now, I don’t want to call him a predator since he did voice his apprehension that he didn’t know whether this was a bad question or a friendly question but, just thought that loosing my virginity was of utmost importance and he would sacrifice himself to help me do that, even if it involved lying on top of me.

Anyway, me being me, I gave him the benefit of doubt still and explained to him how his girlfriend’s female friends who sought their male friends’ help to loose that “ugly” and questionable piece of skin in between their legs is not something that has to apply to every woman. Each woman is different like each leaf of the same plant or each cookie from the same tin. Just because we have a vagina, we aren’t identical. However, this effort was in vain since he felt that his benevolence was met with unnecessary aggression. I couldn’t help but, laugh at this. Women who voice discomfort and an opinion on any sort of sexual advance are always brash and aggressive. Even if, one talks only about one’s own choice when it comes to one’s own body. Typical.

When this happened, I was saddened and angered both by the fact that this guy was plain stupid pretending to be sly and more so, that feminism is becoming a fad now. I remember a filmmaker called Stalin coming to university and stating that he was a feminist but, was told by someone who has been fighting for women’s rights in Gujarat that he cannot be feminist. Why? Because he was a man.

This makes me question what makes a feminist? Whether the lady was right that a man can never be a feminist? Isn’t feminism equal to humanism since all it demands is to look at women as equal humans since they have always been treated as second class citizens? Dalit movements are called so because of a reason as well. Men shouldn’t cry here though – yes, patriarchy has been a bitch to them too but, they have had better advantage plus, feminism is against the system and not their sex so, calm down there.

Coming back to my point, my worry has been the lack of serious brain usage today when feminism is becoming a fad, a Facebook or Twitter hashtag. People don’t know what they’re talking about but, will use #saveourgirls frequently. It’s the same as Taylor’s factory view – herd mentality.

This experience has however, given me hope in retrospect. I think there’s still hope ’cause I called him out on this. I believe that’s what’s needed – one needs to call out an abuser when it happens without fearing the consequences. It might not even be sexual bias – it can be sexism of any kind, in any setting. It might boil down badly at first but, the next time they do it, your words will come back to them. Slowly but steadily they might learn. This much is enough for you to do your bit and speak out. I have learnt. You can too.

This is exactly where the crass and pop way the film portrays the different issues of consent, patriarchy, regional biases etc. movie comes in. I hated the way the stereotype has been put together and also the PR way that so many different topics have been dealt with but, in a society like ours such blatant street play type conversations are needed for people to wake up and understand, for people to not forget Nirbhaya and countless others who have been victims and / or survivors of this societal mental ailment of pride, honour and fear of sex. More on the film in another post then.

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.

Rustom

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I recently watched Rustom, a film loosely based on the KM Nanavati case which changed the Indian legal system with the abolishment of the jury system. For those who might have not heard or read about the case, Nanavati was a naval officer, married to London born Sylvia and based out of Mumbai. Whilst on one of his missions, Sylvia fell in love with their friend, Ahuja and exchanged letters with him which highlighted the socially alleged fact that Ahuja was an unattached man when it came to his relationships and that Sylvia was unsure of his intentions towards her or the seriousness towards relationships. It was after this that Nanavati comes back home and gets to know this from his wife. After hearing this, he decides to take things in his hands and straighten things out with Ahuja. By straightening things out, it meant a conversation between him and Ahuja about the latter marrying Sylvia and also taking in their (Nanavati and Sylvia’s) children post marriage. Ahuja denied having any plans of marriage which enraged the naval officer who ended up shooting Ahuja to death in his own bedroom. When tried at the Sessions Court in Bombay, he was acquitted by the jury by a vote of 8:1 with a major part of the decision and media gimmicks using communitarian politics to get a judgment. The judge of the sessions court was taken aback and the case moved to the HC where Nanavati was convicted, charged guilty of murder and as part of the legal reform, the jury was removed from the Indian legal system. I read somewhere that later on, someone from the officer’s community had appealed to the then PM Nehru to acquit Nanavati since he was a defence officer and had served the nation. As part of a deal between Ahuja’s sister who was fighting the legal battles on his behalf, Nanavati was then let out some years later while the MH government let out another prisoner from Ahuja’s community as part of a sentence and acquittal community barter.

Now, this case has held the country’s imagination for years. Rustom is not the first film to be made based on the case. There are quite a few others which were blockbuster hits. Rustom only has the Sessions court judgment covered in its story with community politics displayed fantastically. Even the city from that time is projected beautifully, making one almost long to have been born then instead of now. However, despite of all these good things in the movie, watching it left me squirming with discomfort at a few things in the film, more so the overtly lengthy court proceedings captured with sheer ridicule. That brought me to question the ordinary citizen’s take on the Indian legal system – for something as simple as wearing a seat belt and paying tolls. Reminds me of the time when entering MPT territory where one cop offered to let me go past after paying 10 out of the 30 bucks charge, with no receipt of course. Hope was risen again when the driver offered the same option to the next cop who refused stating others might do this, he did not.

Before I digress further, my point here is that a majority of the population in our country continues to swear by trends and brands advocated by film stars, across all socio-economic sections. Even crimes committed by some are inspired from Bollywood. With such great impact, I feel it is quite scary the way the semi fictional story is presented here ridiculing the proceedings of law and order, just like another old Akshay Kumar starrer did. Yes, I agree that even dictatorships are systems and laws and a coup overthrowing a dictator is actually doing good in the larger schema of things but, saying that would just be an adarsh public’s excuse to yet again not see the mirror.

Firstly, in showing the film only upto the Sessions court’s verdict where Nanavati walks scot free and more like a hero makes me wonder if we, as a nation, have issues accepting that our ‘hero’ (righteous male, avatar of righteous principled lord from Hindu mythology) can ever be wrong? Can we not accept that each one of us, even those who are otherwise impeccable in being, can commit acts which can be wrong and harmful to one or many? Also, why do we, as a nation of a 102 billion people, need a hero? Why can’t we choose to find that hero(ine) within our own selves?   

The second thought or question that I had swimming in my head after watching the film is the idea of absolute right and wrong, moral black and white and the grey areas of human existence; and the intersection of the same with the legal system in place. While the case highlights the absolutes of right and wrong in terms of fidelity and patriotism versus selling your land for personal gain and favour making the act of murder by the protagonist as an absolute right! But, does this not make the entire case / story / incident grey afterall? You excuse a murderer because he is a loyal country server and husband (how can we forget multiple scenes of him staring at her picture?). And like all Bollywood films that resonate with commercially viable thinking at the writer’s part, this one too falls flat in its face when the hero is yet again made to let go of the love of his life, in order to work towards the greater good, making personal sacrifice the necessity for greater good.

Yes, there are a lot of good things in ther film but, my problem is that it is films like these that resonate the larger Indian mentality and also that films (and TV) have the power of changing things as they have unbridled access to the common (wo)man’s household. I think this film could have been far better at dealing with a lot of more subtle concepts of patriotism, masculinity, honour, integrity. While I like the portrayal of the human strength of being able to do the right thing when life is difficult but, the film just completely misses the point and loses the opportunity of using the most powerful tool in media to leave a better impact. Nanavati’s act of murder signifying honour over respect for human life and dignity was portrayed too casually, especially in politically charged times like these. Quite unfortunate.