Monday, April 30, 2012 31 comments

HUNDRED – NOT OUT!


I may not be Sachin but  this post  is very special to me- it marks the completion of my “century” on the blogging field !

I don’t know why but I am a bit reluctant to post it. I have been putting off for a while now… I finally decided to face my fear – the fear that probably no one will read it- that may be it will attract only half a dozen comments?

I started blogging in September 2010- a  rather unpleasant  personal experience got me into it. I am sometimes shocked about how I could write so publicly about that ! But at that time I was not bothered about readership. I only wanted a forum where I could express myself. If you browse through my first few posts ( which in my opinion are some of my best pieces of writing) you will hardly find two or three comments- most of the comments being from friends who wanted  to encourage me ( thanks Deepa and Christopher- my only cheerleaders those days!)

I don’t know how or when the readership increased but with that I would say came the desire to write about issues that would be of interest to others! I sometimes wonder, if I am doing justice to myself when I do that because writing to me is a form of self expression and my heart tells me often  to write about what I want to irrespective of whether or not others would read it! Yet, readership is addictive- those few lines of a comment give me a sense of satisfaction that I have reached out to someone with my words. 

Over the last two years, I have realized that there are readers , readers and more readers . I could classify my readership into the following categories – those who comment only so there is that back link to their blog and I would go there ( thankfully there are only few of these), there are those who probably comment only if the issue is of interest to them, then there are friends from face book who sometimes comment when I post a link on my wall,  and finally  there are the “faithful” who visit me irrespective of what I write- to this last category of people I am extremely thankful!  They are the fuel that keeps the fire in me burning and also the desire to write.  I also visit their blogs regularly and I must say that their writing is  good!

People I work with are sometimes surprised that I do not write about poverty and other development issues. But to do that would be like a “bus man’s holiday”- I write about those issues as part of my job. This  is my own personal space where I would like to write about issues beyond that .. I write about personal experiences, larger issues and how they affect me personally and sometimes professional problems. I try to avoid the later after that first instance but I find that when I write about something that is bothering me,  it is very cathartic!

I have traversed other blogs and I follow those which I like. I usually like blogs where I get a sense of the passion and emotion that lie beyond the words that appear. Sometimes the English is not so great but if I get that sense of feeling I read on. And there are other blogs which are so mundane that I am amazed that posts on them get as many as 100 comments!! “Jealousy” you mutter in your mind? No! I am truly intrigued  because it tells me that I probably do not know how to reach out to people strongly enough!  Blogging tips tell you that one should reply to every comment that one receives. I do that but I often club them together into one comment. May be I should start replying to each one of them so that if I get ten comments it would show up as twenty!!! But I do not believe in cheating anyone –least of all myself!

I would be a fool if I were to say that I am happy to just express myself. What is expression if it is not able to reach out to someone? It is like speaking a strange language which no one understands!

I am now seriously considering a career shift into writing- primarily fiction writing. That was how Kaleidoscope was born. It is one of  the most challenging tasks for me. I often struggle  to come up with plots. The stories are probably too long for a blog. I tend to get a bit descriptive in my writing. The few followers I have on that site have been most helpful in giving me tips and I am trying to follow their advice and cut down some of the length. But the feeling of fulfillment that I get after I complete a story on Kaleidoscope is something completely different from the sense of catharsis that the Chronicles bring about. It is almost like giving birth – the weeks of labour- thinking about the characters, giving the story form and finally pressing that “PUBLISH” button!  I don’t like to advertise Kaleidoscope much – I would rather it gets noticed on the strength of the quality of its stories. Some one told me that the style is similar to R. K. Narayan’s and someone else said that it is similar to Ruskin Bond’s.. I don’t know. I still need to evolve my own style there. I am less than 30 posts old on that blog!

I  sometimes wonder what would happen to my blogs if I were to die suddenly? Who would update them?  Or would they die too I wonder….! But there is a fourteen year old who has agreed to keep this alive should something happen …

I am reluctant to sign off.. because it would mean the inevitable – posting this and then I would be tempted to do what I DON’T want to do- count those comments!!!

Anyway, to hell with it…. ! Let me do what I set out to do –write to express myself. If people do not want to read it then it is their problem. I am giving alongside a video clip  from the film “Pyaasa” which is about a poet whose work gets published only after he is presumed dead. So he shows up at an awards function held in his honor reciting these lines  “Yeh  Duniya Agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai..”! (So what if you get the world?)

Monday, April 23, 2012 22 comments

THE OBSESSION WITH FAIRNESS DESCENDS!


A couple of days ago a friend of mine had posted a video on face book about a product called “Clean and dry intimate”. Interesting title.. I wondered ( as you might be wondering now )what this product is all about. I  did a google search on it and found out more. It is a product for women to use on their private parts to help it become ( as the ad says) “fresher and fairer”!!

“What? You are kidding!” said my husband laughing.

 But friends, this is not a laughing matter. It is a matter of extreme shame that we as a race are unable to come to terms with the colour of our skin. First there was “Fair and lovely” and its various relatives and today, this obsession for fairness does not seem to be limited to the face alone. How many of us have watched advertisements about moisturizing lotions that promise to make the colour of the body as fair as the face? Apparently, it is now going beyond that!

This craze for fair skin is something that probably unites India and her neighbors across South Asia as a recent article written in THE HINDU says! I cannot understand why we hanker for this? And it is not just white skin, we would also like to have brown hair and blue eyes. There are contact lens makers and hair dye manufacturers who are making a killing out of this! And then there is of course the inability to accept curly or crinkly hair. We want it poker straight like the Nordic women!

But THIS product.. really takes the bakery along with the cake!  I never realized that someone would be conscious about the color of a part of one’s body which is not even visible to anyone except maybe to one’s sexual partner. And it is probably a very sick man who would be interested in a woman for the color of her “P---Y”!

It is said that there is no supply without a demand. So I wonder if our Indian men fantasize about sex with white women so that their sexual partner has to negate her racial heritage and bleach her privates? Or is it that this an attempt to create a demand for something weird? As women we are taught to keep our privates clean but this is the first time I  am hearing about  the need to maintain its “pH balance” and color!  Has anyone ever thought about the havoc this might play with her health? But then who cares? If a government family planning program can advocate for insertion of a metal ( copper T)  into a woman's womb to prevent conception then will the market be far behind?

What is wrong with the color black or brown or yellow? Is it only white that is synonymous with beauty, cleanliness and purity?  And about body proportions- this entire concept of the slim woman and the myth about big breasts!  How many women across the world undergo silicone treatment for breast enhancement! Why do we succumb to such pressures and put ourselves through these treatments?

Each race has its definition of beauty and sex appeal. But  the years of colonization and slavery have obviously created a hankering for something that   has resulted in this feeling of inferiority around the color of our skin.  Markets play upon these insecurities and try to create a need where it does not exist.

It is sad that despite all the education and the access to employment opportunities we women continue to fall for these tricks. It is about time we rose above such conditioned thought processes and find solace in our confidence. After all what is more attractive and sexy than a confident woman? And confidence my friends does not come from the color of your skin. Neither does it lie between your legs. It is between your ears in your minds. But it all depends on where you  believe it is located!
Friday, April 20, 2012 11 comments

THE CREATION OF MEDICORITY


When I  typed out the title for this post I wondered if it was not bordering on the pretentious? I mean I am not exactly Adam Smith .   But so what ?.. mediocrity like wealth or perfection also requires creation and nurturing….and who can do it best .. except probably the Government of Tamilnadu?  Now wait don’t yawn and start moving the page down   thinking  “God! There she goes… TN bashing once again!” I have  reasons ( I always have!!!)

I was talking to my friend sometime back. Her daughter is appearing for the tenth standard public examination conducted by the TN state board . As those in TN may know there used to be two local boards- the matriculation and the state board ( one mediocre and the other worse than that !) which have now been merged into one- THE MEDIOCRE! Anyway, coming back to my friend. I had called to wish her daughter good luck for the exams. The mother and the child were both quite relaxed and I was admiring it all considering that I do not know the meaning of the word “ to chill” ( in my daughter’s vocabulary). I was just telling them about how I admire  it when they told me the secret – apparently the Government of Tamilnadu had circulated prior to the exam, five “model” question papers for the students to work out. The teachers of this reputed convent school in Chennai where my friend’s daughter studies had told the students that it was going to be question paper no 4 or 5 which were most likely going to appear! So this child was just preparing herself for those two papers. The teachers had been most “helpful” dictating answers to the questions which in anyway were from the exercises at the end of every lesson!

I understand that the situation in the 12th standard examinations is no different! My daughter’s math tutor told me that the sums that appear in the maths exam are also from the text book in all the state government conducted examinations- 10th or 12th !

So why all this hypocrisy about the papers reporting on the students who are – “ state first”  and the Chief Minister and Education Minister congratulating the students and handing them out medals and certificates? Who are they kidding?

Let us now look at what happens post the 12th standard when these children are ready for college. Almost ALL would go for “professional” course ( though what profession it would exactly prepare them for is very doubtful!) They all do engineering and medicine- engineering more than medicine because you can come out after those four years and maybe work in a call centre or a BPO if nothing else while in medicine you have to slog for five plus years and then write an entrance examination for the MD which probably only 2% of these students might clear! There is no entrance exam to get into these courses. It is completely based on your school leaving marks. And with the government being so “obliging” in terms of giving marks and granting licences for setting up these Engineering Colleges ( today’s Indian Express reports “CM gifts more colleges to rural Taminadu”) there is room for everyone in at least one of these institutions! And about those who do not get into these colleges after coming out of the state board schools- they have to be extremely poor or extremely dumb!


Now let us see what happens to these students when they are out in this  world- most companies hesitate to employ them as engineers and when they are employed they buckle under the pressure because they are not used to using their brains!

They become part of the beneficiary group of the state subsidies taking their free TVs, mixers and grinders and leveraging their caste status to get more .. ! Many may join the government and perpetuate this.

And we call this one of India’s more developed states? If this is what development is all about – feeding people everything they need and creating a situation where they would collapse if this nourishment is withheld then I am not sure I want this kind of development…! This kind of development is required for the very backward states to help them kick start a process- something that Tamilnadu did very successfully in the 1960s and 70s but to keep this up in the 21st century is complete folly! Or is it shrewdness -I wonder because it certainly keeps one of the two Dravidian parties in power..

Tamilnadu has become a very inward looking state. There was a time when the Indian beaureucracy across all states had a large number of Tamil people but today they prefer to stay in the state because the kind of benefits that their mediocre abilities offer would be impossible to get hold of in other states. Yes, there are droves of people who go on that HIB visa to the US to earn in dollars – I would say that  they are the ones who actually “make” it among these mediocre types. 

I see such medicore people even among the non profit sector- people I work with on a regular basis. People whose creativity is dead! People who prefer to blindly follow instructions rather than pose questions- they feel intimidated to contribute something in a group of peers from other states that discusses issues animatedly. I sometimes wonder why- whether there is a language angle to it. But I am increasingly beginning to realize that it is not the language..! In a sector like ours you often learn to question when you yourself may have experienced some sort of discrimination, marginalization or hardship- where you turn those negative experiences into positive energies to work for change. For others who may not have had a lived experience of discrimination  the confidence to question may arise out of a good education system. When it is neither you remain a fan of “status quo” in what is largely the change business!

So- there I have given you the recipe about how to create mediocre individuals.. But as someone told me- this policy of the Tamilnadu Government in terms of strategy has won it many laurels- it has a deceptively high literacy rate( and is ofcourse very revenue rich thanks to its liquor business).  And lets face it –have you ever heard about a “question paper leak” in any of the public exams here? A question paper leak for the government is a huge headache as it means setting a new paper and going through the entire examination rigmarole! So they have saved huge amount of rupees which would be spent more profitably on providing laptops for the kids in standard 11 and 12 so that they can browse all the porn sites on the net!

I am not going to apologize for the frustration that is coming through- I realize I am  one among a minority .. I am probably chasing a dream..  When Tagore wrote “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high” he certainly did not have this in mind.  The mind today is without fear because it is lulled into complacence and about the head being held high – figuratively I speaking, there are no heads.. only  tails which are wagging away- sometimes the whole body along with it!


Sunday, April 15, 2012 10 comments

What happened to those rain songs?

With the summer blazing away even before it is May, one longs for some respite- and what better respite can we think of besides, the songs about the rain and  in  the rain?

In India, we have a very short or virtually no spring. So what is the season of love? Yes, you got it- the season of the “ Kali ghata” or the black clouds- the monsoons..
Hindi films have made a celebration of love in the rain… These are the seduction scenes ( or the pre seduction scenes) where you see the heroine gyrating in a chiffon saree to songs that have lyrics that hint at sexual longing ( Bheegi Bheegi raton mein….) or maybe the song follows later ( Roop tera mastana). It is also the scene where the camera roams over the body of the heroine taking in as much as it can …!!

The oldest rain song I can remember is from the film “Shree 420” where you have Nargis and Raj Kapoor singing in the rain under an umbrella. It is also the only song that I can remember which actually showcases the romance in the rain sans the roving hands (or the lens)! Then there is the exact opposite of this chaste twosome in Aradhana where you have Sharmila Tagore in a towel next to a fire and a Rajesh Khanna with half done buttons stoking the fire ( very symbolic!) to Kersey Lord’s opening bars of the song” Roop Tera Mastana” !! What I like about this song is that there is so much of “chemistry”  that gets conveyed just through expressions- very little flesh gets exposed ( if you discount what is visible of Rajesh Khanna’s chest in that song !!!). A few years later into the 1970s  and the rain sequence gets “bolder” with Zeenat Aman and Rajesh Khanna dancing to “ Bheegi Bheegi Raton mein” on the roof top –this is probably the beginning of an era when rain sequences began to be used as excuses for exposure! Scores of songs followed through the decades in the same format- “ Badal yun barasta hai “ ( Betaab), “ Aaj rapat jayen to (Namak Halal). The thunder rolls, the lightning strikes and the heroine falls into the arms of the hero ( otherwise how do you get her to go physical with the hero- remember she is “virginal” ..) that is pretty much the script of this category of songs.
There are  then another group of rain songs which are picturized on  just the heroine mouthing words of sexual longing camouflaged in poetic lyrics. “ Rama Rama Gazab hui gawa re”  from Naya Zamana or “ Bheega badan jalne laga” from Abdullah.

But there are few songs that have very beautifully showcased fun and frolic of lovers in the rain-“ Rim Jhim Girey Sawan  from Manzil and “ Sona Kare Jhil mil jhilmil” from Paheli. In one you see Amitabh and Moushumi as this urban couple walking down Marine Drive and in the other a rural couple in a village setting.
But the most powerful song is not in the rain but about the rain in Gulzar’s  Lekin –“ Suniyo ji Araj Mhari  where Dimple as the imprisoned girl longs for the rain so that she can be sent to her father’s home. The words are lovely and you can almost feel the atmosphere when she sings “ bheegi angnaki yaad jo awey. Rookhi rookhi akhiyon mein reti udave” ( when I think of the damp and wet courtyard I feel the sand blow into my dry eyes). The fact that the rains in India are symbolic of romance is certainly not a myth! Whether it is in northern India or in the south there is the tradition of newly married girls being sent away to their parents home during the month of ‘ Sawan”  or “Adi” –. There are various explanations to this- the most interesting one being that rains also mean work as this is the start of the agriculture season. Families therefore do not want the attention of their young men being diverted to other “activities” ( what sadists!!!) and so send the brides away-there are some other theories which say that if a couple gets carried away by the romance of the rain and a child is conceived it is likely to be born sometime in April-May when its chances of survival in the summer heat is a bit doubtful! Whatever.. lets face it – nobody is disputing the romance of the rains!

But coming back to the present, I must say that I find there are fewer and fewer rain based romantic numbers in Hindi films these days! People tell me that there is no need for such numbers now because anyway there is so much of exposure and sex with bikinis and bare chests that one does not need that white sari to show off the heroine’s curves or look for the excuse of thunder to have her hug the hero(?). Maybe the female characters are more sexually liberated in today’s films but sex sans romance gets rather crude doesn’t it? I mean, I am not suggesting that film makers continue to show leaves quivering or flowers coming together to suggest kissing or lovemaking but why are they missing out on the mood that the monsoons can create by way of romance?
Probably because romance as people of my generation know it no longer exists… it is now only heaving bosoms and bare chests showing off the perfectly toned bodies.. Or is it because the romance now takes place in the snow clad alps and we need to have snow songs and not rain songs? Or is it that there are not enough lyricists who can weave words of romance through their poetry- even poor Gulzar had to write “ Bidi jalaile..” ! Whatever be the reason the notes of Raag Malhar are certainly lying idle.


Friday, April 13, 2012 19 comments

OF FAREWELLS AND FUNERALS

Today, I saw a quote put up by a friend on face book which said “Don’t come and visit me when I am gone.  I waited so long for you when I was alive” This line sort of sums up the complete hypocrisy of the human existence when it comes to a farewell!

I can quote  so many instances where a certain old person waits and waits for his/ her children to come and visit them. Often there is not even a phone call and then when the news of the parent passing away comes ,they all rush to be there at the funeral. I recall the funeral of a close relative in 2010 when people who never even called when she was alive made sure they were there with flowers and ensured that their wreaths with their names written on it were placed on the grave before the coffin was lowered! For many, funerals are social occasions especially when the person passing away is an elderly man or woman. This is the occasion for them to meet with other relatives and “catch up” on family gossip.  For some others there is an urgency to be there just so that they are not “cheated out” of any legacy –property, jewelry or bank accounts.
The same logic can be extended to farewell parties that we give colleagues who are leaving an organization. I am always amazed at the lies that people speak when they are present at these occasions. At a recent event like this I was surprised to see the way some people waxed eloquent about a colleague who was leaving. Many of these people had been very rude to her while she was there and the work environment for her had been rather unpleasant. I wondered where they were hiding these feelings while she was still working with us? Had they expressed even a fraction of what they were saying at the farewell, she would left with happier memories or probably not left at all…

When I discussed this with some friends their reaction was “Well you cannot actually say how you disliked a person”. I agree because I had been at another farewell function where a person who was disliked by all was leaving and a very outspoken colleague actually spoke some rather negative things about this person in her presence ( while many others lied as usual saying all the wonderful things expected)
Funerals and farewells are occasions where we come together to bid someone goodbye. So it is about the person leaving. I agree that we may not have always had wonderful experiences with all but why do we want to say nice things? I think it is to appease one’s own conscience..! Why do we want to say that we loved a person when we actually did not? We can just keep quiet or wish the person all the best ..I guess it about ourselves- we want to come across as persons who are nice. So you have people sobbing at funerals !

There was this hilarious experience at a relative’s funeral in 2010 when one of the “mourners” had bought herself a beautiful white dress especially for the occasion and had Gucci sunglasses covering her lovely face. “ She wanted to look the part of a distraught daughter without her make up getting smudged ” said my husband later on with a grin!  I am sorry but I am unable to see the humor of the situation
I sometimes wonder how my funeral would be like.. I sincerely hope that it is devoid of these hypocrisies . I would like maybe a handful of people who really loved me to be there. Even if they cannot be there it is okay because I know there would have been some genuine reason why they may not have been there. And about a farewell party if I leave my job- I definitely do not want one! The colleagues who became friends will always remain so and the rest.. well I don’t want them to say nice things about me just so they feel they have done their bit for the samosas and snacks that are served at these occasions!!! After all this is not about little Tommy Tucker who had to sing for his supper…




Sunday, April 1, 2012 22 comments

What did she ask for ?

Does a woman always ask for male attention? Yes, may be at a certain age or a stage in her life. But what does she look for in male attention? Does she want to feel good about the interest that a man has shown in her or does she want to feel violated by it?

When I mention the word “ LECH”  what comes to your mind?  I can see a middle aged man ( yes, it is always a man!!)with shifty eyes looking at us women in a way that embarrasses or angers us. While age may not be the defining factor, the shifty eyes or the sly looks certainly are!! I have spent over four decades on this planet coming across hundreds of them. We find them in public spaces as well as in our personal and professional circles! While many of them probably do not do more than give us the “ look”  there are those who go beyond looks and try to “ grope” . Whatever it is, they continue doing it as long as they feel that they can “get away”  with it!!
So what happens when you have to deal with a lech on a regular basis? Do you ignore it? Will someone believe you if you complain that someone’s gaze violates you? I find that our tolerance levels to this kind of behavior is higher than it should be! We try to ignore it but given the daily interaction with this person it is difficult to do so.

People in our society sometimes confuse lecherous men and flirtatious men. But I would like to come to the defense of flirts. From my experience I can say that a flirt is usually a more honest person. He does not hide his pleasure in being with someone and generally knows his limits! I would say that he has a lot of confidence in himself and treats women in a manner that enhances her self esteem. Besides, flirting is something that both men and women do ( though when women do it , it is interpreted differently and the consequences are often more serious).  Leching ( sorry guys!) is usually done by men!

Now, coming back to the psychology of a lech..  we can say that he is usually a person with little confidence in himself. You will never see him actually look at a woman in the eye or speak to her. He usually sees women as an object of titillation.

Unfortunately, the world around usually takes a judgmental position where a flirt is concerned while a lech hides behind the fold of “respectability”.  How would an organization’s sexual harassment policy for example take into account the problem of lechery? Unless a lech actually does something or says something inappropriate it would be difficult to do anything about them. They would continue to exist, violating women with their eyes. We , in the world of women may spread the word around and avoid this person- those of us who are more confident might confront them and tell them to “ look up” but that’s about it!

And imagine women in organizations who may have to report to bosses who are leches! In such cases there would be no solutions for her unless a sensitive HR system identifies the issue and comes to her rescue!

I sometimes wonder if putting a certified lech on a committee that looks into sexual harassment issues might actually help in putting a stop to the problem? I mean, we would have the spot light on this guy and all women would be watching him closely- remember the story about the thief who was handed the keys to the safe?

While a lech in a public space may be more open about his violating gaze, in a more personal / professional space they are more careful. Many men are surprised when told by their women friends/ colleagues that a certain man is a lech. I wonder if the perception to lechery evades them simply because of their gender? But I don’t think so because if it were their daughter or sister or wife they would be more sensitive.

But I applaud men who take a woman’s word for it- lecherous behavior does not have to be universal. It can be targeted even against just one person!

And about “asking for it”  I can say with confidence that while a woman may enjoy some harmless conversations with a flirt she does not want to have anything to do with a lech!! Interactions with a flirt may occasionally turn into an affair at some point for some women but interactions with a lech has very serious consequences as a  lech has the potential to turn into a rapist and rape is something that no  woman       ” asks for” !
 
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