Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Maybe it’s Also About Making Voices than Only Choices

Yes, the Vogue Empowerment video was definitely skewed, it only spoke of sexual choices, in relationship, outside of relationship, with respect to consent, judgment of women on the basis of her choice of sex. Yes, it was largely about issues related to sex, her presence within a relationship and even about the misconstrued idea about fidelity and extra-marital affair. Yes, she does not for once talk of a woman’s identity in terms of her professional choices and the sexism and bias she has to face in every such professional endeavor. Her choice to be part of something she believes in, or her choice to not coerce to the hegemonic decisions imposed on her. Her choice to follow a field or belief of her choice, and how choices are created or exercised, (but then the video was a 'short' film) The fact that the video is commissioned by Vogue makes it even more suspect. A magazine that only speaks to rich women of a particular class, a magazine that is abominably responsible for creating impossible beauty standards and then naturalizing them as desired. For airbrushing women and photoshopping their airbrushed skins to remove any speck of reality from it, and then making women aspire to these ‘models’ of beauty, perfection and ideal. And basically creating beauty and presentation as the only relevant qualities to possess in life for any women, that which defines their worth and respect in society. What is also extremely problematic is this extremely niched and ideologically and even ethically misguided magazine appropriating images of tribal or poor women in their video, only through their photographs taken in various other magazines, never once bothering to engage with them more personally. There are unarguably several problems in this video, and the video makers, Homi Adjania, and its participants who have otherwise come out strongly to talk about women’s issues so long as pertaining to them, have to be informed of the people that might have been offended by their apparent “goodwill” message in the video. Yes, they have to evolve, develop their stunted knowledge and advised to move beyond this arrested rhetoric of sexual choice. But to call it sick, I personally feel is highly discouraging, condescending and even mean. Their perceptions are limited, misconstrued and ill understood, however, I also believe at the same time that the intention per se is not worth admonishing and dismissed. It is playing the intellectual card, discriminating on the grounds of understanding the subtle nuances better than the others and then instead of helping them to understand it through constructive criticism downrightly berating them for what it was seeking to stand for.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not in favor of Vogue and the kind of lifestyle and thinking it endorses. I think it is ethically callous and irresponsible for them to create unreal standards of beauty and direct all their content space towards exploring the means and methods for women to become prettier, attractive and be more presentable in world, and constantly reiterate through such limited approach of the paramount importance of these categories. But there are arguably such people too who might buy Vogue not to get ambushed by its obscenely impossible beauty standards but to take tips of fashion from it or maybe get the right kind of makeup or hairstyle. Now would you also tell me, that these women who invest their energies in only trying to look great, and define their lives around that, have to be berated, bullied, and reprimanded for having interest in things that are more superficial, or would you rather instead try to convince and educate them? When we speak of Feminism, we often forget that there are several women who refuse to even acknowledge this term, and we often give a simplistic argument for them being stupid for not understanding the political implication of the term, and therefore being too naïve to understand their own complicity in patriarchy. We often overlook the fact that they might have felt doubly bullied, if at all they tried to appropriate feminism and side with its politics without completely understanding it, both from the men who wrongly interpret the cause and action of feminism and in fact by the better informed and educated feminists themselves who are more readily given to condescension that is available to them through the power of knowledge and information. “Knowledge is power” Foucault has famously quoted, and power is toxic, it is the bane of human existence. While we always wish to locate the negative exploits of power in the ‘other’ we often overlook our own implication in this power game: in our own exploits of power to assert an ego, an identity that sometimes is also limited to self-fulfilling agenda for identity and image formation. Feminism is definitely not merely an intellectual movement, and if it remains to be, it will surely be a defeat of its very founding purpose. But before we go ahead to convince men to understand it, we, who consider ourselves intellectually more nuanced, who have understood the political nature of the power of knowledge and knowledge making, who have sisters, mothers, aunts and friends who don’t understand their own subjugation in several relationships with the men in their lives and have consented to this subjugated status are to be taken together to see the fruition of feminism in its principal. Political movements such as these should be inclusive and cannot be formed with the ‘us’ and ‘them’ categorization. What we are resorting to then is another kind of parochialism, an intellectual parochialism, which might not be seemingly threatening enough yet because it is in its nascent form of development.
Adichie’s novel, Americanah is reflective of this age of heightened intellectualism, that instead of including everyone into a shared dialogue of political issues such as gender, race and class are engaging in exclusivist opinion forming. The dedication to these causes is rather zealous and often times encroaches the territory of one category over another, by imposing the vocabulary of one over the other, often confusing the pragmatic and essential difference between the two and thereby problematizing the politics of both the categories. Her protagonist, Ifemelu is in fact disillusioned to the armchair activism practiced by her boyfriend Blaine, his friend and his sister, who are supporters of the larger cause of racism, but are individuals are mean to Ifemelu and dismissive of her opinions funnily enough about her own experience of racism in the country. She discusses race in her blog, while Adichie discusses gender in the narrative surrounding Ifemelu, trying to understand it through its interactions with the overlapping category of race. Americanah beseeches its readers to extend their perceptive and interpretative capacities to allow a holistic overview of a situation and stock taking before making hasty judgments and commitments to an issue without much deliberation. In this age of heightened political awareness and a social rewarding and positive reinforcement of appreciation for having a politically “correct” and “proper” opinion has further caused for a non-committal hypocrisy to emerge, that is far more corrosive to any political movement than outwardly and visible opposition.

There is in fact overabundance of opinions, an excess of political stances, and at the same time a dearth in willingness to listen, to converse and to form a dialogue. What such an environment then creates is a confusion of excess information with an ever decreasing compassion for those who do not understand the nuances of certain political subtleties that are so imposingly naturalized into us as a norm that we often don’t even consider it abnormal or out of the ordinary to consider for a deeper intellectual engagement. It is also an age of heightened ego formations, with social media platforms such as facebook and twitter being the narratives of our stories, the stories of our lives, opinions and perceptions. We have friends who are often not really friends, acquaintances from different caste, class, creed, gender, race, religion, etc, relatives, both younger and older to us, our teachers and our students, and this forms a very diverse and intellectually varying salad bowl. And while I strongly believe it is a medium of empowerment, I also believe it is one of the most rapidly actualized social revolution. Democratization of information and opinion formation has inarguably given space to people of a certain class with access to internet, and with this newfound platform they should exploit their rights to voice their opinions. But what we also should have learnt with this freedom of intellectual articulation is compassion, and the age old wisdom and virtue of listening. What the blitzing speed of internet does is rush us up to make a response in time enough for it to be heard and acknowledged. And this divests it with critical understanding that comes with involved engagement with it.
What we all must remind ourselves is the simplicity of the principle that infuriates and agitates us: the denial of individuality, subjectivity, agency of self-articulation and even compassion towards difference. This is common across our tirade against issues related to sexism, classicism, racism, caste-ism and other isms. The separate identity markers of class, race, caste are always in a palimpsest with the issue of gender, simultaneously working, and therefore calling for a differential model of understanding, instead a strait jacketed approach; but the basic and the simplest kernel of the matter remains to be the same: lack of understanding and compassion and a disavowal of the voice of this ‘other’, as also imposition of one ideal of thought over another. I am often asked what makes academics useful in the world, what can a few writers who are spatially, temporally, geographically, socially and culturally separated from their readers might have to offer in contemporary times? Do the conferences we hold, the seminars we attend and the papers we present and publish have a bearing in the larger cause of a contribution to humanity by virtue of which it might be deemed as a legitimate payable profession? I say yes, because of the only reason that we have an access to a wider knowledge base than the others, that through our readings we might have equipped ourselves to make more informed opinions if not always more correct. It might not be the duty of an academician to give answers to society’s problems, nor would s/he like to assume such a self-aggrandizing role of being the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’ as Shelley quoted in his Defense of Poetry, and credit might be given to them to get over this self-assuming authority over opinion formation or even legislation. But it is certainly the expectation from an academician, by the very virtue of the essential purpose of the field itself, for a pluralization of opinions to exist and converse with each other in a dialogue to allow new ideas and approaches to emerge. And in this light the response of a few academics to the mistakes made by the filmmakers of the Vogue Empowerment video or the ‘India’s Daughter’ documentary earlier this month has been rather disappointing.

I am very certain that the voices we are so readily eager to dismiss as naïve and incompetent, often do not want to remain so, if sufficiently and compassionately directed (that is if one really wishes to do so, and also allow them a chance), they might consider an alteration in their approach, a more nuanced and a more informed manner of looking at things and being conscious of it in the future. It might not materialize, they might not listen, but then, to have a constructive dialogue is to allow for change to be conceivable. But to deem them irremediable is a defeat of the very purpose of raising awareness. While voicing resentment is absolutely necessary, this resentment should not become exclusivist and solipsistic. If we wish to mobilize on issues such as feminism, we might just do disservice to the frail attempts by movies as the one made by Vogue, or the documentary about Nirbhaya that was similarly vehemently criticized earlier. While the information reservoir of both these filmmakers might be limited, and their commissioning authorities extremely suspect and cringe-worthy, I am merely thrilled for them to at least start to begin making the noise with the platform given to them. We as literary and social critics can in fact make for these misguided and flawed attempts more pruned, and self-conscious. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ parochialism then based on the relative access to intellect and information of one group over another has to be given up in the favor of extending the boundaries of the ‘us’ to include as many people as possible for social change to be possible.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I Want to be Fearless, but I Fear and therefore I Speak: "India's Daughter's" in Perspective

So Leslie Udwin arrives in India on the behest of BBC to do a story on the Nirbhaya rape case that happened on 16th December 2012 and led to nationwide shock, bereavement and agony which translated into protests and strong demands for the death penalty of the accused. After over 2 years since the incident, one of the accused has committed suicide in official records, one is in juvenile court and another 3 wait for their court hearing. The court that was supposed to handle this case was supposed to be a fast track court that was only fast enough to make a charge sheet in just 17 days and in sending one of the most devious perpetrators to the juvenile court for the mere technicality of his age. It has been 2 years since, the fast track court is still in the process of hearings and has given the accused such lawyers as obnoxious as the guilty themselves. The BBC documentary titled 'India's Daughter' appears in the wake of this lackadaisical approach to justice. What has garnered the attention of people with regards to this documentary is the statement made by one of the guilty, Mukesh Singh. It is his utter lack of guilt or any conscience that has shaken up people, who are now feeling too scandalized for having to listen to a demon, a monster. Was it necessary to publicise it this way? Was the shock deliberate? More importantly, the question that we should ask ourselves and the question whose answer the I&B ministry has already decided by banning the video, is the relevance of watching this video. Should we then watch Mukesh Singh and his lawyer spew their sick views on this documentary? How important is it to really know their viewpoint? Where are they stemming from? 
  Yes it might sound condescending coming from a woman of non-Indian descent. It might also seem unfair and problematic that there is an underlying "civilizing" vocabulary that goes along with this video. But, the truth is that despite the uncomfortable undercurrents in the documentary it has brought back in the limelight the movement that was started back in 2013 and eventually buckled not for lack of will but for sheer exhaustion. No, not all Indian men think like this man, but there are so many who do and the number sure matters.
  There are still several, not excluding the members of our own families who horrifyingly echo some part of these unfair statements, 'It's you, who has to take care of your own safety. Be safe', say the patriarchs of my family advising me to return home by 9 o'clock latest in the interest of my safety. They are scared they say. Yes, their fear is justified, but how do we tackle this fear, by not addressing our own complacency, our own contribution to this thought process, but by taking the easy way out, oppressing the woman sitting at home, forcing them to abide the 'rules' and be at home, in the interest of their 'safety'. It is much easier to close your eyes and hide in a hole then take on the David versus Goliath fight. The women want to fight, and they do. There is solidarity, but its pathetic and obnoxious to see how ill supported it is. I'm not saying women need men to take up their issues or speak for them, but when half a population, and that which is unfairly more in power positions, doesn't wish to contribute or even discuss, it does not help, but only hinders.
  Why those who are not in support of the documentary to be aired wish it to be banned is that they have always separated themselves with the perpetrator. As if he belongs to some underground hell hole that spurts up such demonic creatures to perpetrate crimes of unspeakable brutality. The fact that they look ordinary, have an ordinary voice and are more importantly human, and someone amidst us is what is causing the discomfort. The fact that they are echoing the sentiment (whether emerging from fear or a will to control) of countless Indian men and women, both in power and in our society at large is something which is even more disturbing. That he speaks in the language of some of our national and religious leaders who people willingly support is what is a very rude wakeup call for all. A forced self introspection that is discomforting, uneasy, self aware of its complicity in the rape culture.
  Now I wonder what if this documentary had been made not by a foreign woman but an Indian man. How differently the media and the so called nationalists respond? We often ask if we need someone to come from outside to speak on issues so intrinsic to us? If rather we should have our own agents talking about them. But the truth remains, that for whatever reason she was granted access denied to others, and while people only talk of making a documentary, her movie has been made, it has brought the discussion to the fore again and if we want to take it to a larger audience beyond just media we ought to watch it. It might disturb us, discomfort us and shock us. But it is precisely for these reasons that the movie should be released and watched, not in isolation on private internet channels but on TV, hearing our demon speak, echoing ideas that our religious fanatics uphold. It is possible we are being seen under a lens of racial bias world over, but it is not completely untrue that the justice has been delayed and countless more cases remain pending too.
  Yes it is named 'Indian Daughter' but rather than getting into the political discussion of the term and taking away from the urgency it demands, we need to have ourselves wake up to the discomfort of living in a society where rapes are not merely numbers but an everyday threat to all women without exception. To understand that maybe the title is politically skewed and merits debate, but what is more important is to bring this constant unaddressed unnerving attitude of a patriarchal system in purview. Finally it is the environment under observation that merits more attention than the lens itself. People should watch, introspect, and offer to help and support rather than either withhold freedom of women or believe that only a certain class is under threat. There is no denying that there are rapes in the name of religion and caste and they are equally horrifying and condemnable, but it is this attitude of complacency and seeing women as the site of violation to "teach a lesson" that has to be probed. There is much talk of education, but I feel, basic human empathy is all that is asked of and required when issues such as these are raised. Yes, this selective anger and revengeful attitude is as alarming as any other sweeping perception on women's safety and their agency to the urban space, but what is also important is to speak, to debate and to begin to change. For this alone, the documentary should be released by I&B. So that people can start to be speaking again.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Empty Verses

Words rendered empty
Mumblings gurgling out
Voice, just an echo
A faint murmur
Can’t say, a sigh or gasp?
Vacant thoughts
Edging closer to numbness
Defeated silence
Crouching with diffidence
In the farthest corner,
Of the darkened chamber.
Spewing nothing.
Arrested gapes  
Swallowing the vacuum
Eating up the hollows
Voids filling up cavities,
Of begotten memories
And dried up passions.
Eroding with mercy
Wearing out with an ease
That reeks of gutting melancholy
Au revoir to the agony
For one is bid for other to beckon,
Asking hollows to vacate
And hollows to fill
The barren insides
Of the masquerade

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Freaky Friday

A story inspired after a lunch at a restaurant. Is purely coincidental and a figment of my imagination. If you find it objectionable or unacceptable, do let me know. Hope you enjoy it though.

Freaky Friday

The tables were laid out, the restaurant empty, their table booked. He scanned the length of the restaurant to look for her, trying to place the pictures of her he had seen online on the one or two faces that were present there. She sat there grim and brooding in the farthest corner of the room, scarcely visible from where he was looking. He asked for Sophia and was directed to the table that had been booked for them. The restaurant had an eerie feeling about it, despite the staff being cordial and warm there was a general sense of coldness in the air, he couldn’t tell where it came from but was sure he sensed it. The restaurant despite being on one of the busiest streets was particularly deserted, except for two tables. He wondered why despite all that space in the restaurant she would choose to occupy the farthest and least visible corner of the room. He guessed she’d have been a regular and therefore had her space marked out for the sake of comfort and convenience. He cleared his mind of these banal observations and followed the waiter. The waiter pointed to his table and left immediately. He located the corner and saw that that the table had been laid out for two, but he could see no one. Joshua was a little taken aback. He turned around to the waiter to ask if she was still expected or if she had excused herself to the loo, but to his surprise as he turned, the waiter had disappeared and there was no one in sight. Not bothering to walk the entire length to the reception he turned back to make way to his table, she was there now, basking in some strange sort of spotlight that encapsulated her petite frame. Her body spoke of a languor that comes with sitting in a place for a long time. She looked up and smiled and extended her hand for a handshake. Joshua pleased to have finally met his guest forgot about the intangible sequence of events and shook hands with her as cordially as he could. But as soon as he shook her hand there was a shudder that ran down his spine, but suspecting the air conditioning for the chills he ignored and made his way to take a seat next to her.
The food was ordered and they began to chat. It all seemed alright to Joshua, only his deepest and most poignant instincts told him that despite everything seemed to be normal and ordinary there was some external force, unknown, unseen, unfathomable, that was giving him creeps in the guts of his stomach. The food came, they finished eating, but the conversation continued. Joshua felt that Sophia’s face went pale very obviously more than once during their conversation for no particular reason, and she was oblivious to these external physical changes to which he was the only observer sitting right across her table. Finally he gave to reason and thought that it could be resulting from her white silhouette. She looked good in white but he wondered why she would wear all white to a lunch, for some reason it seemed a little out of place and unconventional. Suddenly she picked up the butter knife and began playing with without any cause or reason. Then she started rubbing it around her hands as if trying to check for its sharpness. The reflection of light coming from the knife blinded Joshua in the eye, for a moment he thought that this was not a restaurant, nor the woman sitting across her was the Sophia he had lunched with. It was as if he was teleported to some other world altogether. There was darkness all around, as he tried to grope into the darkness he realised that some weird stink pierced through his nostrils, it was too pungent and he had never smelled anything like that ever in his life. As he regained his sight all he could make of the space around him was the rudiments of an old deserted attic with butcher knives neatly placed on a table right in front of him. And there she was Sophia, in her all white dress, her long tresses curling down her waist and she was turned to the fireplace, as he neared closer to her, she was still playing with the butter knife, only now she was polishing it over a knife sharpener and trying to shape up the blunt butter knife.
Joshua didn’t understand what was happening, where he was, where the restaurant had disappeared or if all of this even real or just a figment of his fertile imagination. He couldn’t make sense of anything. He finally went up to her and placed her hand on her shoulder so that he could turn her around and confront her with all the strange happenings. As soon as he turned her...her eyes shone like diamonds piercing his own, and he could feel another flash blinding his eyes. The next moment he began to hear his name in a dull repetitive chant, sounding like one of those ominous pre-sacrificial humming and chanting. Joshua felt a tingling feeling racing down the length of his spine and found himself trickling of sweat and fear that not only chilled his spine but ran through the entire length of his body having its source in the pit of his stomach. Then he felt as if he was being anointed before being sacrificed to some supernatural deity, the chanting too grew louder, only now it was not similar to the initial humming and chanting, but was broken un-simulated and anxious. Sophia approached him, with the sharpened butter knife and began tapping it on his cheeks. Joshua let out a blood curdling scream of fear and shut his eyes out of fear. When he opened them again after the shock had subsided he found that he was lying on the floor of the restaurant was wriggling in uncontrollable concussions and was sweating profusely, the cold hands that he felt on his face were that of Sophia trying to wake him up. He looked around, the attic had changed back to the restaurant. The waiter who had showed him his table was standing over his head with a glass of water. They all told him how he had suddenly passed out without any cause and that they were extremely worried about him, that he had been shaking wildly, was mumbling his own name in some sort of half sleep. Joshua took hold of himself, got up, and excused himself to the washroom. There he washed his face, wiped it clean, came out, asked for the check and offered to drop Sophia.
During their drive to her house, they didn’t exchange a word. He was uncomfortable with the idea of being in such proximity to her but thought it was only decent to drop her home after the fiasco at the restaurant. He asked her if she was embarrassed considering she visited there often, to which she said she had never been there before today. As he drove closer to her house he sensed the same chill, but he ignored it thinking of it as an aftershock of his convulsion at the restaurant. The roads were deserted, covered with long pine trees on both sides. She asked him to stop at the solitary bungalow that was at the end of the road. He looked at the house, it seemed old and deserted, he saw the name plate, it was tattered and carried number 13 on the name plate with no name underneath. Then he noticed a light on the top floor that must have been the attic, it seemed like a light coming from a fire in the fireplace. He mentioned it to her and she appeared quite un-alarmed about it. She thanked him for the ride, he turned his car around and looked out the window in order to wave a final bye, he saw her turn about and again saw her eyes shining like two solitaire diamonds. Again a chilling fear gripped him and he raced his car back home.
When he reached home, he slumped back on his recliner trying to make sense of the happenings of the day. All of the parts that were supposedly in his dreams had felt so real and he had experienced the same fear, the same chill when he was dropping Sophia as when she had drawn closer to him with the sharpened knife. He shrugged off the spooky thoughts and got up to check the calendar to check for something, suddenly he noticed that today was Friday the 13th and that it was circled in red, and underneath, it was written, a date with your fears!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Gilded or the Sordid, never the valid

Just like that was supposed to be what it reads, and I was supposed to be honest and diligent to it. I apologise, mostly to myself for not committing to my own voice. The opinions had to be unapologetic free flowing and casual, and given the kind of blabbering I can manage in a day and with a troubling mind that would cease to work itself out and even in the subconscious find expression in countless dreams everyday, coming up with an article of my and other’s interest wasn’t quite such a task. In fact like in all other things of creativity (in which I involve myself in a  non committal mediocre fashion) writing was suppose to flow affluently from a person who claims a degree in English and would soon be pursuing masters. Its amusing when my friends believe I ought to be a writer because I am doing English major, only a fool otherwise would invest in a stream that is one with lesser economic returns and is pursued solely as interest (they must read my blogs to revise their opinions). I am often told I am lucky for pursuing what I am. Now this really puzzles me, is this appreciation for someone who has responded to her seemingly true calling and has taken the resolute decision of taking it up and being diligent with it, or otherwise its a well guarded and well garbed scathing taunt, telling me you there have been complacent (and also apparently less smart) enough to pursue an education that is likely to fetch lesser returns in a world driven by the rat race of money making where a person is asked what s/he does followed by the uncouth ritual that impeaches decency to ask of your package next. This still can be explained, I am pursuing what I am passionate about ( passionate is a handy word for engaging in a profession you enjoy doing, and are relatively more driven towards, because honestly even the most exciting jobs can give you a bore like the blog was fun and not burden, but whom am I kidding).
Yes it is my passion to read, and while it may be yours too, I am slightly more inclined and bolder to give my choice a chance. Now this article may seem as justifying my choice for a course that I chose out of will (well also because I was hopeless at maths, and science wasn’t quite my drill) nonetheless, I just wanted to register the kinds of responses that I get for pursuing it, which are of a range that stretches from hilarious and ridiculous to strange and a few times disgusting. Being an English graduate I am supposed to be an excellent editor, as also I am supposed to be good with writing formal letters, the inability of which, at home, is frowned upon. I am either told that my language is too direct or else it has too much literary ornamentation, I can’t seem to strike the right chord. Yes, i can’t I am sorry I was not taught to write official letters in my literature class. The next attack is launched when I sometimes can’t get the accents of some foreign actor/singer correct. I am immediately given a disconcerting look as if menacingly taunting, “you call yourself an English enthusiast, really? You presumptuous smug, check ya’self”. Yes I did, while you were straining every iota of your grey matter to catch each line of the movie, I was wondering if there were any accented men or women, children or aliens that I grew up with to be flawlessly accustomed to foreign accents, the answer was no, wait a second, aren’t you more of Macaulay’s lost progeny than me?
I am as much a cast out as an overly thinking person as someone who doesn’t at all. Since I am a book reading individual, I am immediately slotted as a type, geek, bookish, introvert, and even insidious (because I think too much!). What I say has to be perpetually far fetched, over the fence, and a flashing of my classroom theories. The world is my oyster and my lab and I am only allowed to play with my ideas as long as I don’t subscribe to them, because that would be threatening, wouldn’t it? Well I am quite an example for the nomenclaturing gurus. I fulfil all their said traits, and a few others I know do too. But I know enough who would prove as lively (pun) examples for their skewed theories as petty prejudices. When I argue, I am always already too implicated in theory, very opinionated and therefore either snubbed or disinterestedly given into. Yes, I am all of the above and sometimes wrong too, but aren’t you too sometimes? Why phrase me when you do the same. Yes I am a slave of words, for it is language that drives all our interactions, and in a world which before hearing me castigates me as imbecile the farce of intelligibility has to be employed to say the simplest of things that don’t go through thick skins who are accustomed to fancy gargoyles that are empty of integrity.
And there are some others yet, who accept me, despite all the apparent misgivings about me being a spoilt brat who by virtue of her field of interest is by default implicated in a life of social, cultural and religious transgressions, in the name of the field being a feasible career option. I am told that it would be easier for me to cook, bear children and look after them if I took an easier job that comes with this field. It is here alone that I am ranked higher than women of other professions who have equal or even more grit than me to follow their passions, that I would be a better vassal to my family and my children. I am even advised to take professorship because they see me as a bright individual and a sharp intellectual or they have any faith in my communication skills but only because it would make my life easier than women who are more ambitious. My virtue therefore is my ostensible lack of ambition. Yeah that’s quite flattering! It is not what I should do because I am perceived to be good at it, but because while at it I might get the chance and time to be better at other things I wobble with right now. However, when the professor argues at home, she’d be asked to shut her books, her dream land and engage with reality (the house hasn’t been dusted, woman, whose got time for your feminist rant)
Who knows, I might make something of my life, even teach if things fall in place and I am able to remain focussed. But it would not be because its an easier option, not because I want to set people’s perspectives right, or else commercially justify the viability of literature, but it would be for who I am, what I believed in all these years and what I’d like to see myself doing as I grow older. I may sit at home and very well do what most homemakers do, but that wouldn’t stop me from asserting myself and speaking out, from reading, from understanding lives, from dreaming.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Life out of a suitcase: Journey into the times of my yore!

As it occurred to me that any series is most successful in its trilogy, I seek to bring an end to my travelogues, also realising that although I take great pleasure in commemorating each of these eventful trips by recording them as memoirs in my blogs, I have also found that since I always knew what I was about to write I have found myself incessantly delaying it for no good reason. So not having enough to divulge I bring my travelogues to a closure, and what better trip to end it with than the town which is not only famous in the entire world for its luscious and savoury alphonso mangoes but also happens to be my birth place. A town where I had my first conscious memories, a town that had only been hitherto in the subconscious recesses of mind, constructed only through the broken memories dimly aided by old pictures that piece the blinking reminiscence together and make up for an empirical evidence for our presence there. When at the tender age of 3 I left the town, I had promised myself that I’ll preserve its memories in my head so that I don’t forget where it all began, not knowing in the slightest that I might actually get a chance to revisit it almost 18 years later, as if to acquiesce that three year old’s wish to actually permanently etch the memory in the mind by an actual revisitation.

We had never set out to visit Ratnagiri initially, it was more of a detour trip, the trip was actually to Goa, which coincidentally, although not as importantly enough is my brother’s birthplace (excuse my vanity; I am the author of the blog after all and besides we have no memory of living there). At the time of booking the tickets when we were almost set to book the air tickets back from Goa to Delhi, my mother suggested why not check the Konkan railways that we had heard about so much ever since we left that part of India. I could understand her insistence on checking out considering the countless times she had recounted to us the giddy and motion sickness laden road trips she had to take from Ratnagiri to Bombay in order to visit her parents. Although I sentimentalise over it now, honestly I wasn’t too excited with the idea, because it took a day away from our stay at Goa. But our mother had her tricks at place, and she used the emotional ticket, evoking our dormant nostalgia for that peaceful, blissful town and levelling down our brimming enthusiasm for Goa, which we had already visited once before. She got us all excited telling us we could go to the house where I was born and my brother began to go to school, where we spent one of our most precious, innocent and evanescent times of our lives. This was quite enough for us to reconsider the plan and we decided to set out for a déjà vu that seemed promising enough.

We had the most wonderful 4 days at Goa that hardly need any description because I wouldn’t be able to add anything that hasn’t already been dished out by travel enthusiasts and travel magazines and in comparison to their accounts my own would sound rather dull and bland. I believe it’s not too important either because everyone going to Goa has almost the similar stories to share and similar places to rave about. In fact as much as I would have enjoyed myself in Goa, the two following days heave stronger in profundity and significance. We made way to Ratnagiri on the morning of the 5th day, still finding it difficult to leave Goa, not quite still realising the overwhelming experience that awaited us.

So we arrived in Ratnagiri after a short train trip of 4 hours or so, it was evening time, we reached to yet another shanty hotel (ill luck in terms of hotels never seems to be absent from any trip, this one had been booked by a long lost family friend who had still been living there, but ironically in Delhi at the same time as we were there, such is life!) After freshening up we realised there was nothing much to do in that town that almost seemed as if halted in time. My parents remarked that they hardly noticed any significant changes from the time they had left it almost 18 years back. The town seemed to be lying dormant as if still stuck in the early 90’s when we had formed memories of having lived there. As we took an auto and made our way through the squalid homes, we could see the way my mother was getting all excited, because if any of it made absolute sense to visit the town once again it was only for my parents, and maybe even my brother who remembered some things at least, nonetheless our heart beats were as racy as that of our mother. It was as if we were taking a plunge into the past, digging up memories and images that seemed almost from a previous birth. Since we left the town when we were still very young, the images were hazy and muddled, almost like those foggy scenes shown in bollywood movies to indicate something paranormal and mystical. As we were inching towards the house I was born in and in the courtyard of which my brother played bat and ball and hide and seek with my parents while I rocked in my cradle, we had an intense experience of a déjà vu, like we had been here but could not fully recollect how and what of it.

To our enormous surprise, as we stepped out of the rickety auto that drove at snail speed as if divined to orchestrate the climax of the scene, we saw that the house where I was born, where my brother played and wandered, where my father learnt his love for gardening and my mother battled snakes and other such creatures of peril, was just about the same as it had been left 18 years ago. I wondered if the marvellous and the magic realism that people write about could really exist. The house looked as if waiting for us to witness it for what it had been. It was as if the promise of retention that I had made to myself had been shared by the house and it had kept its word to uphold it. We squandered about the house for a little while, then tried to open the front iron gate which did not budge even after much effort, so we climbed over the fence and sneaked a look at the insides through the broken windows. It wasn’t that great an experience for me as for my brother, who had memories associated with each room of the house, as he peeked through the broken windows, he was not only emotionally astounded but was choked and overwhelmed with a nostalgia of a lost time, a lost age.

As if by another play of the marvellous, we forgot to bring our cameras, that has never happened in any trip before, (except for the Khambat trip of course but then we had never intended to click pictures on that trip anyway) It was as if the house wished to be recaptured in memory and not in digital pixels. We took pictures from our cell phones, promising to preserve this last reservoir of memory. And at that magnanimous moment in the grip of emotional welling up my brother made a claim that he would buy the house someday, even if it didn’t fetch him anything, he would buy it to preserve it in both memory and in actual physical terms. Moving on from his fantastical ideas, we checked if any of our old neighbours still lived. The ones living just next to our house still lived there, they too had aged like us, but still seemed as if stuck in time like the rest of the town. They expressed great surprise on seeing us, but since they were not on excellent terms with us and were not the socialising kinds, they couldn’t match our excitement or our sentimentalising. Some of the members of the family had passed away, and some other married and therefore had moved on. My brother reminisced how he used to fetch packets of sugar by prancing on the little bylanes that had been now concretised. All nearby structures had changed except that house, that reservoir of our past. So after we all let out our final Sighs! and oohs! and aahs! we finally decided to move on realising there was nothing much to do there after all. 

The next day we made way to Ganpati Pule the place that we had planned to visit because there was otherwise nothing to do in Ratnagiri than commemorating our past. So we set out to the temple which is both really famous and still not very well known, but its arguably the most wonderful road trips that I have ever taken. The beaches were pristine, untainted almost virginal. After returning from Ganpati Pule we realised we’d have been such utter fools had we not heeded to the pleas of our mother. So other than savouring the plush beaches and quaint churches of Goa, in that trip we reconnected to our pasts, making its link stronger in our present lives, I realised the place of my birth was not just another weird name on the Birth certificate but an actual town that was both peaceful and tranquil, that Ganpati Pule and en-route was one of the most scenic beauties I could ever witness in my life and also it reaffirmed the old belief that mothers are always right. 

The places I have covered in my trilogy of the travelogues are really not exceptional, I may not even over enthusiastically recommend these to anyone, especially not Darjeeling of course, but these have been trips that have had the most significant bearing on my life and despite their brevity have in fact survived longer than other fleeting, although enjoyable escapades. One was about a quaint unknown town in western Gujarat, another a mortal combat for life, food and Mp3 and the third a revalidation of my past, my childhood. Although, these have been subjective pertaining to individual experiences I hope you enjoyed reading. I might come up with another new topic of discussion next time, a little impersonal this time, until then ‘Au revoir!’

Friday, July 8, 2011

Life out of a suitcase : Travelogue 2

So as a part of my travelogue series, the next city, or trip that I am going to introduce you to, is the one that we had very enthusiastically and earnestly planned in the wintry month of November. In fact it was our most earnest trip ever, considering the time that had been spent planning it and the extravagance of wild imagination invested while we mentally charted through the picturesque and beautiful landscapes of Darjeeling and Gangtok planning to visit these shrines of nature that had been thus far only witnessed from enamelled and glossy post cards and annual calendars. The green of these pictures had mesmerised us so that we almost felt as if it were calling out to us, the call had to be responded (also since the LTC had been due that year) so despite my initial reservations of taking on yet another mountain hiking, leg cramming hill station trip we nonetheless settled down on making a once in a time grand visit to the far east of our country, that secluded part of India that is only Indian by virtue of boundaries, and imaginary at that.
So we set out on a trip to Darjeeling/Gangtok in the early chill of winters around mid November. We had strategically planned our visit after diwali in order to avoid large flocks of tourists who brim and crowd the first rows of almost every sight-seeing spot as if reaching there, marking their presence and capturing it on camera was the sole purpose with which they had set out on their entire tour, after all covering each and every nook of all the tourist spots mentioned on the tour guide is a must if one has to eek the absolute benefit of a pre-planned tour. We could have chosen a tour plan but chose to do the exploring bit ourselves, only if we had chosen otherwise. Presuming this to be the best time to visit a hill station and with plans and hopes of being able to spot the snow covered peaks of Himalaya we set out for our trip, not knowing in the slightest of what awaited us on reaching there.
 So we took the Jalpaiguri Rajdhani Express and treated ourselves to the continual services offered from the pantry of Rajdhani Express, the regular servings of timely snacks, soup, dinner, dessert and breakfast the next morning kept us busy and literally full throughout the journey. On reaching the Jalpiguri station we made the most erroneous choice of the entire trip. Gangtok and Darjeeling were equidistant, our trip was a 6 days affair and according to plan we had to halt at Darjeeling for 3 days before making way to Gangtok so that the trip could be on a upscale, with the relatively lesser beautiful place being followed by the one that was slightly better. We headed to Darjeeling in a pooled taxi with another family. So after almost 5 long hours of merry go round around the hills of west Bengal, and having spot the toy train at several places and cursing ourselves for not having opted for it while we had a chance we finally reached Darjeeling around late afternoon. Before entering the city our cab along with those that had left with us at the Jalpaiguri station were stopped at the mouth of the city. The deal and the prime reason for our trip to be the antithesis of what had been cheerfully planned was that the entire city had been called for a Bandh due to internal factions and civil turmoil. The Gorkha land issue was the pin that deflated our balloon of excitement and made this trip something to remember for lifetime for not so happy reasons. If i am to plot a line graph of the relative disastrousness of some of the bad trips we have taken, this one would be serving itself at the highest point.
As if the Bandh was not enough to squash our hopes there was news of tourists being apparently under the target of the protesters. My father got back some awful news of someone being stabbed in broad daylight, whether this happened for real or was amongst the several fallacious rumours doing round they didn’t tell him but it was enough to terrorise all of us. With our hearts in our mouths and our hands squeezed in our pockets we precariously stepped out of the cab so scared and bewildered as if right on the target. Spooked out as we were our father took us to the nearest and also unfortunately and presumably the stingiest and the most rusty looking inn of the entire city. He had been so freaked out with the talks of men with daggers that he didn’t risk walking us even a few meters to consider better options. So despite our constant ranting and reluctance we made way to the inn half heartedly. The shanty rusticity of the inn was draped in bright hues of red blue and green, the colours however did hardly anything to alleviate our dampened spirits. To add to that was the unbecoming and unpalatable food that the inn owner provided us that night. The inn otherwise had no catering facility and we couldn’t have stepped out for the fear of being stabbed to death (well the intent is not to gross out my readers, this was what they made us believe the situation was). The bitterness of the entire land was as if poured into that dinner that night, my brother says he can never disassociate a nauseating giddiness with the memory of that night. I had heard olfactory senses make way for associative memory but apparently the pungency and repulsion of the taste buds have a more lasting effect.

The next day was also called for a Bandh, the tourist guides, whose daily bread depended on the tourists, had the slightest concern for their livelihood, and declared with an audacious smug that the city was still closed to visitors and civilians. Their pale, dirt smeared faces as if glared at us with a mocking surge as if reminding us of the neglect that we inflict on them. One could almost sense their disapproval for our utter disregard of them as part of the Indian State. We nonetheless lanced our way out of the safety haven of the dingy inn and found a cafe that could provide us with some edible breakfast, lunch, evening snack, dinner, all meals in short; choice remained as elusive to us as the green valleys of Darjeeling that we had set out to see when we had the trip planned. The third day, my father desperate to make something of the LTC tour, went to one of the cab drivers and had to literally almost bribe him with extra money and sponsored lunch so that he showed us at least some part of the Bandh-free Darjeeling. So an entire day was spent visiting the rather average, but nonetheless exceptional (by tourist standards) tea gardens, a little venture at rock climbing on a mere 10 ft  wall (well we did something at least despite the bandh!) and a visit to the local monastery where we spotted little monks who were exceptionally cute.
The same day we were also advised to take a cab to Gangtok because there was no political turmoil there and also the passage to that state had also been almost clear in the last 2 days. The next day as we packed up with our hopes soaring high so that we could make something of our poorly trip, we were told that the passage to Gangtok had been close and for the sake of our safety and well being we must at that very instant head back to Siliguri, a city unheard of otherwise, situated in West Bengal. All the mighty plans to visit Gangtok went amuck, I and my brother pulled the longest face we could and amidst ceaseless whines were shoved into the cab that took us to the plains again. The 5 hour merry go round was more nauseating than before now. As if the bitterness of that horrid inn food mixed with the bile of dissatisfaction was churning in our stomachs to give us belches of unrequited anguish. What was worse, was that in our cab we were accompanied my two Sikkimese men who wouldn’t stop raving about the beauty of that state and how it was so much better than Darjeeling well, they did nothing to cure us of our acidic belches full of discontent, they could have only heightened the agony. So we reached Siliguri and so trembled we were by a possible unrest there as well we lodged ourselves in the nearest available hotel (although choice would have not been unavailable, but that is luck we say).
So we dumped ourselves in another hotel of a city which we would have never planned to visit in an entire lifetime, even if we had pledged to do a Bharat Darshan of sorts. Clumsily sacked in that lone town of West Bengal we spent the rest three days cursing ourselves for having made the “3 mistakes of my (trip)”, the first being, setting out on a trip to one of the most sensitive parts of India without making sufficient enquiries about it, the second, not taking the cab to Sikkim from the Jalpaiguri station in assuming that any trip should successfully alleviate itself (ironically it did so but in only alleviating our melancholy) and finally in not leaving Darjeeling while we had the chance to do so only because we couldn’t wake up on time (fathers don’t scold you for nothing for being lazy bums). The soapy saga doesn’t even end here, as a perfect complement to the utter disastrousness of the trip, my brother forgot his Mp3 player in the shanty inn of Darjeeling and what is worse we have by hand of fate or by technical ghastliness lost all our pictures of that trip taken from our digital camera and saved on the C drive of our ill-fated computer (because every time you run the damned machine it needs reformatting).
However, we procured the Mp3 back from the inn owners through courier which resurrected our faith in humanity (pardon my exaggeration but the magnanimity of the trip demands it). Someday hopefully we’ll also recover the lost photographs, the only memoirs we retain of that ominous trip (other than the bitter taste of the inn food, of course, that still belches up when we recall the whole experience).