Sunday, December 15, 2013

Many A Slip

That moment before you lose your shit.
That moment before you censor yourself.
That moment before you cast your vote.
That moment before you take that bite.
That moment before you lean forward.
That moment before you walk away.
That moment before you turn around.

Take that moment and stretch it ouuuuuuttttttt as if you control time, as if you are the queen of making clear choices. As if your mind has always had the right answer and your body has always been poised to make the perfect move.

To enjoy the delusion that everything you decided was right for you in that moment. To squash the idea that you made a mistake.
Or the opposite.
To know what's done is done is done and everything else is spin.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Distressing Realization (in which she's becoming everything she mocks & mocks everything she's becoming)

The boy I am currently observing closely for the purposes of long-term-companionship-shortly-to-be-followed-by-imminent-rejection, has an intriguing habit.
We'll be coasting along merrily, when I will turn to him and EMOTIONS.
When this happens, he usually does a swift about turn and zips off into the horizon as fast as his Road Runner stalks can carry him.
Without so much as a beep-beep.

At this point, I usually take a moment - or several - to fall apart in a fashion not unlike that popularized by this fresh thing:
Yes, Uncle indeed.  

Then I gather myself, wipe off the snot (or not - I work from home) and realize that there's a major part of my brain that's now freed up to think about other things. Like politics and my bank balance and travel & exploration. Yoga perhaps? Or Twitter. Aah Twitter. With a gaping boy-shaped hole in my cerebral cortex, other things of CNN-level importance can now pour in.

Over the last 5 months, these boyless interludes have resulted in (1) an accelerated rate of meeting work deadlines, (2) me powering through several unread volumes in my Kindle (including a David Foster Wallace book, which is worth not one but TWO 'boyfriend-stonewalls'), (3) writing a film script on ceramic crucibles made out of something called Mullerite (which I may have misheard as Miller Light and taken on), (4) planning a vacation to South East Asia and (5) being nice, in small doses, to my mother.

In contrast, when things are peaceful in the realm of boy, life takes on a decidedly free-flowing-no-responsibility tenor, where social outings and alcohol intake rise and a new daredevil attitude takes over me, where things such as caution, deadlines and reading the newspaper are thrown to the wind in lieu of weeknights out and pretending I still inhabit the body of an all-nighter-pulling 20 year old. There is sweet, sweet chaos in my otherwise ordered world - the kind that makes me wonder why I needed order in the first place.

Which all makes me come to a distressing realization. What kind of woman am I? The kind who can't function at her best when she's happy? Or someone who's governed so thoroughly by hormones that she has to drop practically everything in her life just to stay upright? Oh God - can I not have sex and a tweetworthy political opinion at the same time? Am I not - shudder - a female and hence a multitasker?

If this is indeed the case then I should perhaps, instead of weeping at the temporary loss of a cootchie-cooing counterpart, focus on all the things I neglect when in the throes of romance. Like reading a book, doing my taxes, taking in a show or an exhibition (haha who am I kidding, I never do that anyway), writing down all the wisdom I've gleaned from relationships with men and once and for all deciding if I want to audition for Indian Idol or not.

More importantly, just in case the boy returns before that hard-earned final chapter of DFW's book ends, I can always just EMOTION or DECONSTRUCTION OF CHARACTER more time to complete it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Happy Festivus

It isn't festival season in India until you've been kept awake by the amplified yodels of a Bengali man channeling Kishore Kumar (who, in turn, built his career channeling Julie Andrews channeling lonely goatherds), which - even though the singer is situated half a kilometer away from where you attempt to sleep - reach you through the turbo-charged surround sound system that's been expressly hired to simultaneously please the goddess Durga and drive you batshit insane.

The good news this festival season is that Orissa (Odisha, whatever the chick's name is) managed to survive yet another devastating cyclone, all thanks to tweets like this:

Yes, why should we not take this moment to pat ourselves on the back for being the bestest country in the world with the bestest disaster management that allowed us to have the bestest disaster-free 24 hours of our----what? What, Barkha...Barkha...I can't hear you...115 deaths you say? In a...Navami-related stampede and bridge collapse in Madhya Pradesh?...

Dang. We almost made it.

But if you ask me, the best thing about this season (besides the results of my dengue test being negative) is how non headline-making-gangrapey this month has been. Of course, rapes will happen and what's a little ass-grabbery in a pandal once in a way? But by and large October, though only halfway through, has managed to be refreshingly rape-free in the newsworthy world.

The world celebrated one year of Malala surviving the Taliban's idea of tough love. She inspired admiration in the most cynical of hearts, when she went on The Daily Show and spoke about wanting to retaliate by throwing a shoe at her attacker but then rising above.
You're a better man than me, Malala, because here is my shoe and here it is being launched as retribution (for crimes far less severe than those committed on you) towards the skull of a yodeling Bengali man, whose time has come.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

3 Books

I am reading 3 books at the same time:

1. Death By Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson

2. Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss

3. Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

Depending on what meds and day of the menstrual calender I'm on, these books are fucking with various parts of me, in varying degrees of intensity.

Highly recommended all. 

P.S.: Do you think it's coincidence? Is there such a thing as coincidence? What is coincidence anyway?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

the small print

some of us will learn that growing up means playing an endless game of tic tac toe, battling constant opponents engaged in ceaseless struggles to win the upper hand, always plotting, brains racing at a thousand kilometres an hour, never dropping the ball, keeping at least one eye open at all times. always fighting for trophies, always shielding from attack.
relationships are arrangements of convenience, strategic contracts between two lives - no matter how hard someone's beating heart echoes in our chests, no matter how easy it is to dissolve into their skin.
in spite of the exhaustion, the endless game is always to be played, new arrangements waiting to be negotiated, small victories to be won but never to be questioned: for what? 

some of us will learn that growing up means playing an endless game of treasure hunt, requiring immense energy for digging deep and hunting for clues in all the scary places - inside ourselves and others - with hearts open twenty four-seven, equally subject to gentle breezes as to harsh winds, always taking furious notes no matter which way the wind blows. always striving to be authentic, ever ready to confront the demons round the corner.
relationships are wild trails, bathed in fresh air and sunlight to illuminate unexplored parts of us - no matter how vulnerable it makes us to go off the beaten path, no matter how unfamiliar the road becomes.
in spite of the uncertainty, the endless game is always to be played, the fresh air & sunlight always available for renewal, small treasures to be found and never once doubted: for what?

Friday, August 16, 2013


Ask me again what I want to be when I grow up.
At age 34, I want to be someone who knows how to love and be loved. 
It is the simplest thing I can think of wanting to be. Certainly, also the hardest.

A magnificent thing happened to me while doing the dishes today. A fluff of dish washing foam fell into a vat of oily water and whoosh, like Moses parting the seas, the grease parted and a pristine moat of clear water emerged out of the mess.
Now, I know that soap is designed to make a hearty meal of grease. It’s what the label on the pack says. It’s what my chemistry teacher said in school. It can be proven with equations and formulae. There’s math to explain it. I've had a 25 year long career washing dishes so I’ve also come to place good faith in soap’s appetite for grease.
Yet, there was something about paying attention as it happened: a single droplet of lily-white decimating an entire army of oil & grease in one graceful swoop.
You really had to be there.

(But of course soap doesn't really decimate anything at all. On the contrary, it builds a chemical bridge between natural foes - oil & water. Dang, science, you're awesome.) 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's never a bad thing when your morning begins with the gentle sounds of Brian Cox discussing the 'wunders of the unee-verse' with Neil deGrasse Tyson & others, against the backdrop of London's Science Museum (BBC Radio 4: The Infinite Monkey Cage, Ep: Science Museum).

Go. Listen.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On The Endless Waiting To Be Understood

Tough love dished out by Anton Chekov to his brother, Nikolai:

"You often complain to me that people 'don't understand' you. But even Goethe and Newton made no such complaints. Christ did, true, but he was talking about his doctrine, not his ego. People understand you all too well. If you don't understand yourself, then it's nobody else's fault."

Find the full text here:


On a slightly different but related note: The final spoken verse from 'Mori Araj Suno' sung by Tina Sani with Arieb Azhar (Coke Studio Pakistan, Season 3)

Iss surat seh arz sunatay
Dard batatay, Nayya khaitay
Minnat kartay, Rasta taktay
Kitni sadiyaan beet gai hain 
Ab jakar yeh bhaid khulla hai
Jis koh tum ne arz guzari
Jo tha haat pakadnay waala
Jis jaag laagi nao tumhaari
Jis say dukh ka daaroo manga
Toray mandir may joh nahin aaya
Woh to tum heen thay
Woh to tum heen thay

Translation (with some alterations, from here)

With this visage, you plead
Recounting your pain, Rowing your boat
Asking to be blessed
Then waiting expectantly...
Countless centuries have passed this way
Only now to reveal
The one whom you had appealed to

The one who held your hand and guided you
The dock where you anchored your boat
The healer you sought a panacea from
The one who did not visit your temple...
...Was you all along

It was you all along

Saturday, July 13, 2013

First, Listen

This is the remarkable speech given by Malala Yousafzai at the UN on her 16th birthday.
There are folks who are questioning whether she wrote the speech herself or whether she is merely a pawn in larger geo-political games.
To which, the best answer I read on the interwebz came from Overrated Outcast:


In my humble opinion, it's very possible that this young woman will become a brand (well, she has already) or that her story could be exploited for base political agendas.

But to dismiss her message or the fact that she stands in front of an international gathering of world leaders, having survived a terrifying attack on her life and liberty and insinuate that she does so because she's too stupid to know better, makes you - yes even the Taliban-hating you - a shithead.

A shithead of the variety that cannot understand what wimmens with their tiny brains will ever be good for besides parroting someone else's words. Or what, if anything, they could achieve with an education or a platform to express themselves.
Oh wait...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

At The Risk Of Sounding Like The Worst Woman Ever

....allow me to reproduce an extract from an interview with comedian Rob Delaney:

Any advice for a 21-year-old who hates their job and has the possibility of traveling the world? And has a boyfriend that they like. (This is for a friend.)
Go do it. Fuck him. Is he a guy in his 20s? Then he's the least significant type of person on the planet. A male in their 20s? Run in the opposite direction. Nothing he says matters; his fears, his hopes his dreams are garbage. Men in their 20s are the worst thing happening on our planet. Go, go to Uzbekistan, go to South Korea, just go anywhere he isn't because men in their 20s are bad for young women.
So what do women in their 20s do?
Masturbate. Date other women for a while. Use men sexually for a while but don't ever invite their opinion or be bound to them in any way.

Men in their 30's however? Yum.


Link via @daddy_san

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Guy & Eep from 'The Croods'
[strained while holding on to Eep]
You're really heavy!
Thank you!

Saturday, May 18, 2013


A girl walks into a bar.
But before that, a girl walks out of a house at the first break of daylight. She’s spent the night with her eyes scared open, only shutting them to pretend sleep, when he re-enters the room to stand over her. He is silhouetted against the sliver of light that pierces through the half-opened door. He stands over her, no longer breathing heavily, no longer filled with rage but still very much a threat.
When he turns to leave, she allows the air back into her chest. She waits for morning, when she will walk out, never to return but carrying away the memory of his angry body as he pins her down. His palms red-hot with violence, nailing her wrists to the bed as she abandons her body in panic. She hovers above it all, waiting for it to end.
She returns home, scrubs herself clean and retreats under 2 layers of blanket. She does not move for the next three days. When she gets up again, she is frozen. No one will touch her again, is all she knows.
Two years later, a girl walks into a woman’s office. The woman talks little and mostly listens. Sometimes, she makes the girl stand up from her chair and close her eyes. She places her hands, firmly, on the girl’s shoulders. She asks the girl to lean in to her strength. The woman will hold up the girl for as long as it is needed. But who will hold you up? the girl asks. Generations of women before us, says the woman through her warm palms. Every woman you’ve ever known – your mother, her mother and her mother before that, going back as far as you can stretch your memory. Soon the room is filled with the spirit of these women, each holding the other up with warm palms, all leading back to the girl. As they radiate and penetrate through her, she begins to understand what letting go might mean. But it will take time.
Five years on, a girl walks into a bar with her friends. She knows there’s no such thing as complete healing but there’s something about this evening that makes her laugh from her belly and that’s alright for now.
So, even though he’s a complete stranger and she’s inside a Hollywood cliché, something about him makes her smile. After they’ve swapped essential stories, he will ask her out with cautious charm. She will defer her decision until she’s sober. Until her answer comes then, he will place his hand on the small of her back and she will let it remain there. Later, she won’t remember how close he pulled her or how far she leaned in. But she will relive the gentle heat of his palm on her back, staying not leaving. Not propping her up either, because for the first time in a long while, she is strong enough to hold herself up.

Read Nandita Saikia on What I've Learnt From Violence

Sunday, May 12, 2013

'Hysterical Literature' by Clayton Cubitt

This is just one in a series called 'Hysterical Literature'. The buzzwords are 'orgasm' and 'art'.

For the artist's perspective, read this Salon article.

(via @koopamandook)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Because I Can't!..."

Film: Contact
Year: 1997
Based on the novel 'Contact' by Carl Sagan (1985)

Worth watching a fajillion times because of a brilliant story & screenplay and multitudes of layered meanings that criss-cross science, religion, the tug-of-war between pure scientific enquiry & beaurocratic douchebaggery, the virtues of patience & integrity in the pursuit of truth, daddy issues and the tussle between reason & faith (which may not be an 'either-or' debate at all).

And kickass radioastronomy that includes nerdgasmic scenes from radiotelescopes like Arecibo and the VLA.

Plus cool SETI stuff and brilliantly imagined ET-tech eg: a transportation pod with cool features like doors that become seamless as soon as they shut and...well...the ability to travel through wormholes in the universe at relativistic speeds.

Plus, a strong female character (that could've just as easily been written male), carved to perfection by Carl Sagan, who does cool shit like climb into alien-pods that are likely to kill her - all in the interest of satisfying her scientific curiousity & furthering human knowledge - while her impossibly gorgeous man-friend waits on the sidelines for her to return from her adventures. Full feminist marks.

Plus the hot, hot, HOT Matthew McConaughey, who argues for spiritual faith, while mastering the intricacies of Special Relativity, while managing to look convincingly in love with the biggest girl-geek Hollywood has ever created.

But mostly, it's worth watching because of the most epic movie finale in the history of all films ever made by humans. (What do you mean I haven't seen 'all films ever'? What're you, my mother?):

(Pssst: There are Indian astrophysicists like Jodie Foster's character from Contact, who have dedicated their research lives to the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. I wonder what their backstory is...)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Parting Shot

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Justice JS Verma Committee's report is that it reminds us we're not helpless in tackling the complex mess that is gender justice in India today.
This report reminds us how effective democratic intitutions like the judiciary, parliament & government-run agencies can be if their functionaries have the will.
When I think about this report, this remarkable parting shot of Justice J.S. Verma, the words 'helpless' or 'defeatist' do not figure even once.
That's saying a lot for a female citizen of India who has witnessed the widespread apathy & disdain for women & children's issues in the past few months. 

On the same day that Justice JS Verma passed away, Delhi Police's commissioner Neeraj Kumar gave a press conference that was a masterclass in defensiveness, showing a complete inability for self-reflection. Watching this leader of the national capital's police force throw up his hands, refuse to take responsibility for a total breakdown within his ranks and belligerently defend his professional failures, has been extremely depressing. This man, whose position gives him such incredible power to effect change claims helplessness & defeat. This man whose job it is to protect citizens is consumed only with protecting himself.

Even as deep sadness descends on the news of Justice Verma's passing, it's important to remember what his leadership has resulted in: A report that addresses a bulk of the excuses that people like Neeraj Kumar make. It does the legwork (even if you disagree, it gives you the framework to debate within) and the tedious brainwork that most of us may not have the time, energy, skill or inclination to do. 
The next time a heinous crime happens on our watch, (and it's happening over and over again as I type), we shouldn't need to guess where our 'moral responsibility' lies. We have a powerful guide to point us in the right direction. It's a great place to start.


Must read: Legacy of change through justice by Karuna Nundy

Friday, March 29, 2013

New Guy

My all-consuming project at work involves making a TV series on Indian science & technology. (Not on air yet. Don't ask.)
Our funding agency's brief is: "Lyk Discowery, ok? But without money, ok? Ok."

This, coupled with general inexperience in this type of programming has resulted in something that industry insiders term Very Poor Quality. It's not my first experience working in this genre. In fact, one might say I'm an old hand now. I get by only because, in television, it's always the other guy's fault.

Anyway, so the boss has hired a senior chap to come in and salvage the situation. To bring us all back on track, as it were. This man has an enviable resume (eg: he has worked with Rajdeep Sardesai) and he has the beatific smile of your friendly, neighbourhood saviour. He's also vegetarian, which means he can never be an asshole.

We welcomed him in a fairly non-threatening manner and he spent the day with us, vibin' n groovin' n generally chillin'. Towards the end of the day, we began to get serious, describing the challenges we face trying to translate some seriously hard-core science into viewer (read: dumbass) friendly TV. He listened, respectfully, gravely. We were forthcoming about our weaknesses - the biggest being our lack of qualifications. Not one of us making this series has any academic grounding in the sciences.

He expressed solidarity with us and then, in a heartfelt admission of his own shortcomings, told us, "I have a confession: Even I'm doing this kind of work for the first time. I have never before worked in Science Fiction."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pretty Sure It's The Meds

This post is all whine and some crackers.

I'm having such a bad hair day, I'd say my hair is having a bad me day. 
I've been working for what feels like Mandela's stint on Robin Island and my only entertainment in forever has been getting up to go pee.
I have not left the house in 7 days.

I've been sick - as in, body being attacked by germs kind of sick. Or so I tell myself as I pop another pill while searching for an excuse not to bathe - offered to one of the many disinterested parties that inhabit my life. It's the kind of cloying season-change illness that has your skull feeling like it's trapped in a Phantom of the Opera mask with his singing voice echoing in your ears, even though you never bought a ticket to the show and frankly think that Andrew Lloyd Webber's finest ouevre was Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja.

I have seen the entire second season of Girls in a single sitting and am now riddled with dreams of disembodied boobs playing table tennis (Wilson's, not Dunham's.). It's not entirely unpleasant and it sure beats that recurring dream of P. Chidambaram in his Don't-Call-It-A-Lungi-Or-The-Tamilian-Mafia-Will-Come-After-You.

In other news the Anti-Rape bill was passed in the Parliament. The news was received amidst lamentations & recriminations that Rahul Gandhi was absent for the vote (along with a sizeable chunk of the legislature. I think the only people who stayed to vote were the folks who fell asleep in the previous session and woke up in the middle of this one).
I've been trying hard to decide my feelings about all of this and have been in hiding from the droves of reporters, banging on my door, anxious to know my special thoughts.
On one hand, I'm relieved that something got passed - like a kidney stone.
On the other hand, I wonder if this anorexic version of the Justice Verma Committee report will make it difficult for anyone pushing for anything better - like constipation.

Every single day I get closer to menopause.

I read an essay by Frederick Douglass and saw 'Gone With The Wind' in the same day, which is an adventure sport I would recommend to anyone serious about understanding the 'Dalit Sich'.
Meanwhile, Chetan Bhagat managed to con another group of earnest filmmakers into elevating his book from toilet paper to That Film Where That Hot Guy Shouldn't Have Died. 

These are the moments when I wonder why I'm putting any effort into this existence. Then I remember I haven't bathed again today and feel better about it all. 
Besides, as Scarlett O Hara said: "Tomorrow is another day (and if the DMK is still in the news you can laugh at Delhi-based news anchors trying to pronounce Alagiri and Kanimozhi)."
Eiiiiiii. I said - Eiiiiiiii

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Funn Like A Nething

The dreariest memory of grouchy client and the achey-est pain in stressed-out shoulder blade disappear when I write for Stories For Thing.

Here is my second one: The Party In Her Mind.

Now I will go off and read some of the other stories and pretend I have the heart of a 6 yr old and not just the brain.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Two Guys

One of them is the kind of guy I'd like to go out with.

The other is the kind of guy I keep ending up with.

"I'm taking my serious girlfriend to Mexico."
"To kill her?"

Saturday, March 16, 2013


This afternoon, from 1:00 pm to 1:12 pm, the news anchor read out 7 pieces of breaking news.
Each one of them was about a horrific act of violence against women - most of them, gangrapes.
One after the other after the other after the other after the other.
Take a breath.
One after the other after the other after the other.

One of the news items creating the most buzz is of two Swiss tourists biking through Madhya Pradesh, in the heart of India. They decided to camp out near in a forested area, when they were attacked by 7 men. Allegedly, they were robbed and the woman was gangraped. At the time of this post, no one has been arrested. There is chatter now, of travel advisories being issued for the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Travel advisories for countries where these things happen and modesty is outraged by boys will be boys.

Breaking. Very breaking.
And don't tell me "At least the rapes are being reported & taken seriously."  I'm not in the mood.

Let India be internationally shamed for being a rampantly criminal country.
Not safe for children, women or men. I don't care about national pride anymore. Enough is fucking enough.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Today at the mall, I saw a woman with her son and nanny. The son would've been around 8 or 9 years old. He was misbehaving and getting on his mother's nerves. His mother yelled at him. He started whining. She huffed off. 
The kid was left with Nanny, whom he started to punch. She tried to hug him. He stomped on her foot. She stroked his hair. He wailed. The mother came out of the store she was in and yelled at him some more.
Then she left again, vanishing into another store. The kid's squealing got louder. He charged at Nanny. She tried to fend off his tiny-fisted slugs, while reaching into her backpack for a juice to calm him. He threw the juice box on the floor. Nanny held him firmly, wiped his tears and said cooing things into his ear. He calmed down, only slightly sniffling now. His mother surfaced once more. All was peaceful. 
What an invention! The Tantrum Nanny.

The Tantrum Nanny reminded me of something I saw years ago on a road trip to Kedarnath. 
Some workers were digging a ditch along the highway. Two men were responsible for shoveling the loose earth to one side.  But there was only one shovel.
The shovel had a rope tied to its blade.
Guy 1 held the shovel firmly by the handle.
Guy 2 tugged at the rope so that the blade would sweep across the ground & scoop up gravel.
Guy 1 would pull back on the handle. Guy 2 would tug again. Guy 1 would pull back. Guy 2 would tug.
What an invention! The Two Man Shovel.

I now dream of a day when there will be a robot for tantrum management (and 2 robots for shoveling).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Joinin' 'Em

A recent commercial for an online property dealings site Magic Bricks. com has plenty of potential for generating outrage. But I think it's a great ad. At least there's no smarmy pandering to the feminist ego, which is so rampant in Indian advertising nowadays.
Instead there's this:

So gutpunchingly honest is this ad that I'm inspired to fuel a new revolution in Indian advertising. I think it may appeal to more people than we think.

Bike Ad:

Refreshing Beverage Ad:

Beauty Products Ad:

Multi-purpose Ad For The Man-In-You (Who-Only-Listens-To-What-His-Mummy-Papa-Say):

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Life Is A T-Shirt Whose Label Has Fallen Off

One of my father's well-worn party jokes is: "Life is a struggle. And then you die."
It doesn't get many laughs.
The fact that life is a series of dastardly, fate-driven events, whose consequences we accumulate, pack into trunks and lug around all our lives, without a visible destination in sight (or even on Google Maps) is a family motto in these parts.
Our Family's Coat of Arms: 'Semper Eadem' is Latin for 'Life Will Poop On Your Head'

I am on the cusp of starting a new year of my life. It's somewhat of a halfway mark in the human longevity timescale. Assuming I have as many years of struggling left, I'm telling you now - I'm not having it none of it no more.
So as long as we're making up shit about life, I'm getting me my own motto: 'Life is T-Shirt. Whose Label Has Fallen Off.'
My new Coat of Arms: The Empty Space is Latin for 'Huh? Who dat?'

I'm reading this essay by W.E.B Du Bois called the 'The Souls of Black Folk' and not that I'm comparing my personal struggles to those of the African-American but there are words here that ring true and comfort me. 
It's about the newly freed Black man (I'm going to assume, also woman), for whom the 1865 Emancipation declaration was not an instant release from racism. 
It's about the exhaustion of endless struggle and the dimming of hope. 
Even if we've never been slaves, it's something many of us can identify with to some degree (please don't be sending me sermon-like comments about how I will never understand what it means to be kidnapped from my home continent, dehumanized and sold like a piece of furniture, physically, mentally & psychologically brutalized and silenced for centuries.).

"Up the new path the advanced guard toiled, slowly, heaving, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings of the dark pupils of this school know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work.
The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or someone had fallen.
To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan always dim and far away. If however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self examination....

....In those sombre forests of his striving, his own soul rose before him and he saw himself - darkly, as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission."

The 'cold statistician' bit kills me. Just kills me. It's that ridiculous little scorekeeper inside us. The jerk with the checklist, reducing our lives to tickmarks & crosses. When we look back on our lives and try to sum it up, this icy-hearted statistician is there to give us the tally.
If life has been a struggle against the odds without an end in sight, the tally is likely to be a grim one. 
And if you're in a minority or have taken a non-conformist route, god help you, you're completely off the grid.

But Du Bois gives hope. Maybe the struggle isn't endless but an end in itself - an empowering end in itself. 
Maybe we're imagining the destination incorrectly. Maybe it isn't the goal we envisioned (please don't be sending me comments like: "What? Why am I starving myself if I won't lose 10 kilos???")
Maybe there's reward inherent in it. Like a 2-for-1 deal you weren't quite shopping for but can make something out of
Maybe it's the 'leisure for reflection & self-examination' that's the reward. Maybe it's the 'faint revelation of power'. 
Maybe, yes.

(And please don't be sending me comments like: "Big whoop. You can keep your sombre forests of striving. I still want my promotion.")  

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Carl & Marissa: Some Thought Experiments

I'm reading Broca's Brain, Carl Sagan's book of essays on the 'romance of science'. It's always been a struggle for me to get through non-fiction but this is a great read and I'm congratulating myself on keeping up with it. Here's an excerpt:

"...We might therefore one day travel to the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy and return in a time of a few decades measured on board the ship - although, as measured back on Earth, the elapsed time would be sixty thousand years, and very few of the friends who saw us off would be around to commemorate our return."

Not 'none' but 'very few'.
Hahaha Carl, you're such a kidder. You're kidding aren't you Carl? 
Carl? Are you there, Carl? 
You're freaking me out Carl, stop it. 


On Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to ban working from home.

As a professional:
When I'm not traveling I work from home and I love it. It helps my process. I'm disciplined. I meet all my deadlines and on most days I don't turn in rubbish.
If Mayer was my boss I'd want to strangle her. 

At the same time, I also agree with this article: '3 Reasons Marissa Mayer Has Made A Smart Move
Even though my job is creative and needs peace and quiet, I've felt the drawbacks of working far removed from my colleagues, where the kick of working for a common goal gets diluted. It's difficult to feel part of a team when you are geographically separated for 80% of your teamwork activities. I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect the end-product.

In that sense, I'm tempted to think that Mayer might be onto something here (plus, to make an assessment of her decision from a business point of view, one might need to study the circumstances at Yahoo! that prompted this decision. It could hardly have been a random act to make its employees' lives miserable. I mean, who is she? My ex-boss?).

As a working woman, who doesn't have children and can't speak for those who do: 
Do I feel her decision is anti-women? In spite of that bloody 5-star nursery next to her office, I might be tempted to say no, I don't think her decision is anti-women (insensitive yes, anti-women no). 

I've always been suspicious of this culture of 'supporting' women by tailoring their professional lives to allow them to be mothers & wives. 
Call me paranoid but I find it sinister to promote the idea that women can & must do it all (i.e. be rocket scientists at NASA & Mother India all in one). 
It puts an unrealistic amount of pressure on women, propping us up to be failures no matter how hard we try. 

So here's a thought experiment in 2 parts: 
What would happen if a woman (or a man, for that matter) had to choose between profession and parenting? Wouldn't we have to question what we've come to assume is axiomatic? (The axiom being: we can 'have it all'/ 'having it all' is helpful to us as individuals & as a community.)

Part 1: What if Yahoo!'s decision influences work cultures across the professional world and there comes a time, when it becomes less demonic & more normal to choose one over the other?
Could it be that a woman (or a man) will be free of the pressure to have it all, do it all and be some impossible version of the 'complete woman/ man'?
Could it be that women (and men) might actually be happy being one (professional) or the other (parent) without a sense of loss or having 'missed out'?

Part 2: What if we reject Yahoo!s decision and there comes a time when we have to embrace the 'having it all' trope in every possible way?
Could it be that more men might become equal stakeholders in the child-rearing process (and women might actually let them)?
Could it be that workplaces alter & adapt themselves to support this 'having it all' trope (rather than banishing employees to their homes, where the messiness of raising children is not the organization's problem)?

We live in an age when we are expected to be all the big things: parents, consummate professionals, responsible caretakers of our aging parents, contributing members to our community. 
Is it realistic to be all of these, all at once? Do measures (like encouraging working from home) that allow us to be a million things at once, help us or harm us?

I still haven't figured it out. But until I do, I can't scream bloody (sexist) murder at Mayer.

(Another thought experiment: If Mayer was a male CEO, would the outrage target him personally for his life choices or would it focus on Yahoo! as an organization?)

(Additionally: There's something very creepy about expecting her to be a card-carrying feminist just because she is a head honcho. And then demonizing her because she's not.)

Slightly off-point but connected : Read about the feud between Rebecca Walker and her Pulitzer Prize winning author mother, Alice Walker. It's the seamier side of what happens when a woman tries to make a go of both profession and motherhood and gets it all muddled up. Not saying all woman are unable to handle both. Not even saying that all women don't want to handle both. But here is a woman (Alice), who clearly couldn't and didn't and the consequences were painful for all parties involved.

The mother-daugher wars: Phyllis Chesler
"Rebecca: Trust me, a woman really cannot do both. The myth that we can is a dangerous one."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Notes From The Fringes

If you follow this blog then you know that over the last 2 months I have hovered around one of the many movements that have gained strength in the weeks following the Dec 16th gangrape.
I say 'hover' because I'm drawn time and again into a space I'm not sure I understand in its entirety. But still I go.
I go because I want to learn what women across this country are thinking.
I go because I want to learn what women across this country are feeling.
I go because I want to understand their, our, history of struggle.
I go because I want to appease the part of me that has suffered violence, harassment & injustice.
I go because I am curious about the men who turn up to watch.
I go because I am curious about the men who turn up to support.
I go because I am curious about the men who own these issues as their own.
I go because I want to add my voice to a movement that might get lost in the din of several other problems this country faces that are 'more critical' than women's issues.
I go to soak in the collective energy of a group of women, standing together, unapologetic about putting their needs at the top of this nation's to-do list.

So once again, some really rubbish photos and a brief description of proceedings as they unfolded on the 21st of February at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. 

The 'People's Watch Over Parliament' was purposed towards reminding the Indian Parliament, on the first day of the Budget session, that they had a serious responsibility to discuss the Justice Verma Committee recommendations & rethink the hastily drafted anti-rape ordinance.
The idea of this gathering at Jantar Mantar was to stay put on the streets from 12 to 5pm. 
I was only there till 4:30 and don't know what happened after. 
But for most of the hours I participated in the 'sit-in' (with a sore bum to prove it) I heard many speeches & performances (music, poetry, dance, theatre). Here are some highlights.


Some sloganeering (from the Bekhauf Azaadi repertoire) to get the crowd pumped up, a musical performance & some hulchul near the stage (which later turns out to be Shabana Azmi) and things get underway.

Ranjana Kumari begins with a reality check. 35 years of experience in trying to push women's issues into the consciousness of our political machinery has taught us one thing, she says. 
It is not priority for this session of parliament to discuss the JVC recommendations or the ordinance. 

(This is a much needed reality check for those of us who are new to activist movements. In the past weeks we've had a corruption scandal, riots over price-rise and a series of terrorist attacks.  These are bound to get the attention of the House and national media before gender justice makes it to the floor. Us lot had better be mentally prepared for disappointment.) 

Some more music. 'O Ri Chiraiya' is a hot favourite and it won't be the last time we hear this song this afternoon. (The song actually grows on you if you dissociate it from the memory of Aamir Khan's Social-Cause-Game-Face.)

Next Binalakshmi Nepram speaks. She speaks of having just met with Irom Sharmila, who has a message for the protesters in Delhi: "Don't let my life become a drama." By this, Nepram explains, Sharmila means that the movement requires more investment from us than just appearing at protests and invoking her name.

She (Nepram) speaks of aligning movements from other parts of the country (like the northeast & Kashmir) with the Delhi one. She tells us how the AFSPA (instituted in 1958 in what was supposed to be a temporary provision for 3-6 months) has overstayed its welcome (to put it mildly) and how the women of states like Manipur, Nagaland and Kashmir have suffered in its shadow.
Her pitch goes up a notch and one can sense her deep frustration as she explains how opposing the AFSPA does not make the women of these regions 'anti-national'. 

(When activists like Nepram speak it's easy to see how women get the shorter end of every stick - be it communalism, casteism, regionalism, poverty you name it. And this is what places it at the top of India's 'to-do' list. I can't imagine the horror & humiliation of having to repeatedly prove your allegiance to the country in order to get social justice.)

Then, there is movement from the sides of the crowd. A high-energy group of young women dressed in grey & red descends upon the gathering. They occupy the area just in front of the stage. These are the ladies from Delhi University's Maitreyi College. 
And they go on to put up a gutsy, funny and no-hold-barred streetplay on India's dodgy relationship with its women.

This street play has a way of divesting patriarchial tropes of their power over our collective minds and presenting them stripped of logic. Of showing them up as jokes that everyone can laugh at. (There's a lesson in here for all of us who ask what good a campaign like 'Slutwalk' is.)

They use real ad campaign slogans, misogynist comments of political leaders, statements made by military & government spokespeople, quotes from Bollywood etc. Without twisting the actual words, they use their tone, body language and theatrics to say: ISN'T THIS BLOODY RIDICULOUS? It is right? Right.

(And suddenly these immovable traditions, this 'maryaada' we've unthinkingly accepted, loses meaning. I can tell you there were some men in the audience who were a sight to see. They would laugh because it was all so obviously funny but then they would stop and look confused. Then laugh again.)

Speaking of men, let me break the chronological telling of events and bring in Gautam Bhan, who directs his speech towards the men in the audience.

He's the Boy in the Brown Sweater (with mic)
He asks: Have the men, who've collected to support 'Bekhauf Azaadi' understood what it means and what their role in it is? Bekhauf Azaadi necessitates the shattering of patriarchal structures. It has implications not only for women but also men. 

He also addresses the dangerous notion of making sexual violence laws gender neutral in India. Gender neutrality may be sold as a means to achieving equality but it's a red herring. Unless the inequality in society is accounted for, it is more than likely that sexual violence laws will be used against women & men who are on the wrong side of the patriarchy debate.

He underscores the fact that feminism is not anti-men and us citizens can't afford to be divided on the basis of gender.

In my favourite bit from his speech, he says that protesting isn't enough. We must make the time & effort to understand the political nuances of what's being demanded, granted and debated over.

It's nearly 4pm. Lawyers have spoken, as have activists from groups working on dalit causes & human trafficking issues. One fellow called Vidrohi has recited 3 poems that I haven't quite understood. Kavita Krishnan gets up on stage.

She is an incredible orater, always able to draw in attention, no matter how distracted the crowds may be.
She speaks of 'naitikta' or morality and how it's used & abused to preserve patriarchal structures. (Apparently there's a Delhi Police banner outside all women's colleges in Delhi that lists out a series of 'dos and don'ts' that must be followed to be safe in the city. Apparently no such banner has popped up outside any other type of college.)

She tells the delightful tale of meeting Union Home Minister Sushil Shinde, who seems most foxed about what women really want. 
The way she tells it, I imagine him shaking his head sadly, looking hopeless yet secure in his knowledge that his people did everything they could do to protect women, by drafting an ordinance that no one asked for.
Krishnan talks about how she & other leaders attempted to explain their points of view. But what language do you use to explain your stand when the other person has already decided it for you (and isn't really interested)? 

And so she talks about the lack of seriousness accorded to issues affecting women. At its best relegated to 'not so critical'. At its worst, twisted into devious machinations of women, who've gained quite the reputation for being liars, manipulators and all-round troublemakers ('narak ka dwaar' is the phrase she used) throughout our mythology.

(Fun fact: In Urdu & Arabic speaking parts of the world the word 'Dajjalan' has been flung about. There is even a wikipedia page about it. Thanks @imsabbah)

Some of Us Jolly Narak Ka Dwaars

The crowd has grown in the past few hours. Some folks from a neighbouring protest ("We Want Gorkhaland!!") have spilled into this one. Chaiwaala, papadwaalas, chaatwaalas and vadaawaalas have started networking. One lone fellow from a 'rival' 16th December protest walks around forlornly sporting a 'Hang The Rapists' signboard (What's happening in that head of yours, sir? I'm curious but timid to ask.) The newsreporters have finally settled down. 
As the clock inches towards 4:30 pm, I get up to leave.

I don't know how the rest of the evening panned out. 
As for the pariament, there was buzz that the issues would be discussed the next day in the Rajya Sabha. But then the Hyderabad blasts happened so I don't know about that outcome either.

Friday, February 22, 2013

On (Wrapping My Head Around) Intimacy & Love

This is the big work of my life. 
As I begin to pick apart the debris of my personal history, I try to work out a new way of thinking about myself at this age, in this time, as a woman who is ready & willing to love wholeheartedly or not at all.
A big part of that is to move from a place of abject mistrust of men (as emotional creatures) and begin to believe that they are capable of love. 

So, I'm reading a book by bell hooks. 'Communion: The Female Search For Love'. In it, she writes:

"Shere Hite published her voluminous report Women and Love. Providing an accurate and realistic examination of women's attitudes toward love, her data suggested that far from 'loving too much', most women were cynical about love. She reported an overwhelming majority of women in relationships with men testified they did not feel loved. Hite commented, "Given the assumption in our society that one grows up, falls in love and gets married, it's surprising that few women say that they are 'in love' with their husbands and how acceptable this seems to be to them." In her section 'Loving Men At This Time In History' she documented the reality that women involved with men felt they had surrendered the hope of finding love, accepting in its place the pleasures and/or benefits of care and companionship. In short they...gave up their desire for men to embrace emotional growth and become more loving. They repressed their own will to love. Denial and repression made life more bearable and relationships more satisfying."

I linger on this passage for a long time. I type it and send it to my closest friend. I re-read it several times. The pull of this extract becomes clearer and clearer.

I am the consequence of what bell hooks & Shere Hite write about. 
Born of a woman who bartered her definition of love and a man who refused to partner her in emotional growth. She needed more than children and a roof over her head. He understood marriage as just that. 
I have always carried their denial & repression inside me. It started sprouting at a young age until it spread its tentacles to the extremes of my body. Reinforced repeatedly like a self-fulfilling prophesy, like a cancerous growth so malignant, I could see no virtue in allowing men anywhere close. They could skirt the peripheries, yes. But my greatest asset: my loving & caring heart was hidden safely away from them.
Except in hiding it so carefully, I encountered the same paradox again and again: How is a heart supposed to do its job of loving if one keeps it boxed in? 

Is this a dilemma that other women (whether currently in relationships with men or not) face? Is there a cynicism born of repeated disappointment with their men, who while wonderful at companionship & security, are failing to embark on emotional journeys? I see it in the eyes of so many wonderful women I know - all in relationships with remarkable and caring (in a way) men. And I wonder, have they completely surrendered their version of love to accept whatever the men are willing to give? 

If yes and if this is the norm, I can't see myself following in their footsteps. It's a path I've already walked down through the lives of my parents & their parents and I know how it will end. Because you see, I am their heart's desire never fulfilled. I am the consequence.

Image stolen from here