Monthly Archives: October 2008

Blanket

Two turns and you’ve
stolen the rajai.

It is not so much
the cold I mind,
as that the privilege of
cocooning,
enveloping,
surrounding,
a sleeping you
is given to a faded,
threadbare cloth, which,
suddenly seems to me,
rather like the marriage –
stained, smelly and in need
of a thorough scrubbing.

Women’s liberation in India: is a revolution possible?

IHT carried a very insightful article by Anand Giridharadas titled “A feminist revolution in India skips the liberation”. I would have posted excerpts, but the piece is worth reading in its entirety, so I suggest you make a quick detour to the IHT site before taking a deep breath (highly recommended) and plunging into my response.

Modernity involves more than sin. It demands irreverence. How many urban young women chop off their hair, or choose not to procreate, or dine out alone?

I’m glad I can say yes to all three! But I am still not sure that defines ‘liberation’.

1. As our Civics textbooks pointed out year after year, we are social animals. Individuals may be liberated in their minds and to some extent in practice, but that practice will always be limited by social contexts. I may not have any hangups about dining out alone, but that freedom in my mind is curtailed by factors that I have no control over – the biggest among them being safety. If I dine out alone, will I get more lecherous looks than if I had company, will I be groped on my way out of the restaurant? There are other limiting factors too – public infrastructure for instance. If I do dine out despite the lecherous looks, how will I get home, if I don’t have private transport?

Often, these very real limitations are mistaken for some sort of conformism, for an absence of feministic assertion. Liberation in women’s minds is all fine, but very little of that can be put into practise without other support structures. Yes, the west has had a feminist revolution, but that change came alongside another kind of transformation – after the two world wars, many many western nations and societies consciously built accountability into their administration and governance. We in India have simply not had that change. In fact, we have regressed greatly in that area.

For a feminist revolution to take place, there has to be a wider sense of rights and entitlement. No, I don’t mean that society in general will or should support a feminist revolution, but that it should actively believe that people have a right to better lives, that those in power should be accountable. To illustrate: most people in India (this is not restricted to women) will not approach a policeman for protection or help. Because you are likely to get further victimised (think custodial rapes, murders, disappearances). Elsewhere in the world, that is largely not the case – if it were there would be outrage, because the public feel entitled to trustworthy protectors. But we simply don’t have this in India – what you see here is acceptance, resignation and an amazing ingenuity in working with and around the ‘system’. This is not necessarily bad, it is simply a different kind of adaptation from the one that took place in the West. But one that will not aid revolutions.

Without a parallel revolution in the perception and demand for ‘public good’, whether in law and order, education, health, transport or any other area of public interest, no marginalised group – women, Dalits, religious minorities – can bring about a public revolution. This is not to say no revolution is possible. Of course it is. Only, it will be of a very different kind from the that took place in the west, for it will take place in the absence of other support structures that existed (or were built) in those parts of the world.

2. This alternate revolution is something Anand Giridhardas has already recognised – he speaks of stay-at-home fathers in rural India, of women panchayat leaders, etc. This revolution is a quieter one – being brought about not by the urban empowered, but by those who need the change the most. Women in Arshi’s socio-economic strata do not need the change. They are rejecting the freedoms available to them precisely because they have never experienced what it is not to have that freedom. Perhaps if it were taken away from them, they would begin to truly value what is being handed to them on a platter.

Apologies to feed subscribers – the article was edited several times after posting, hence must have showed up a dozen times on your readers. My mistake.

Weathering us

When I lie
to you, it rains.

Not a crashing
thunderstorm
outraged at my
misdeed,
but a warm
afternoon drizzle
that washes
the window
to our world,
and settles the dust
on last night’s quarrel.

But you dislike the
puddles. They soil
your trouser edge,
make an obstacle
course of your
evening walk.

Perhaps then
you would prefer
a scorching
summer of truth?

untitled

I sigh too much,
you complain. But
how can I not
when in the darkness
of our first movie
together, you look
down at your
silently summoning
mobile phone and
its faintly purple light
dances on your eyelashes?

Kaapi

A gentle hint of adrak,
A restrained hand on sugar
Quarter cup of milk
The rest is just water.

Yours is the perfect mix
For a cup of chai.
Even with (yucky) Proteinex
Your standards are high.

But the coffee, ah
That bitter brew!
So delicate an art,
Given to so few.

(This is the rewritten version. The original is in the comments.)

Bhatiyar

Of course I make fun of it, of course I roll my eyes at the programming, of course I tune in only during elections, and only sometimes even then, but I have a lot to thank Doordarshan for.

From the mid-eighties to the early nineties, DD carried a number of absolutely wonderful public service advertisements – many commissioned by the PSBT, some by national programmes like the Literacy Mission and a few others privately produced. Among this galaxy of truly well-made advertisements was this one, which I loved:

A few years later I learnt that the song was in Raag Bhatiyar, a simple but lovely melody. My aunt knew a Marathi hymn in the raag, which I made her sing over and over, but never managed to learn.

So Bhatiyar had fallen out of my consciousness for nearly a decade, when I discovered this a couple of weeks ago:

A vachana (who sings them anymore?) by Akka Mahadevi in Bhatiyar with the lyrics explained! Was I delighted!

Nevah-ratri

Pulses nine, recipes nine.
Days of bloating
and gas – nine.
Thank heaven,
the end is nigh.