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My Achy Breaky Heart

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So what makes a good anniversary gift? Now I would like to think I am the creative sorts but once you have spent about 20-years with someone, almost every trick in the book is exhausted.

To help me in the search for the perfect anniversary gift, I did what modern lovers do. Went to google “Anniversary gift ideas…” And voila, google did not disappoint – from love coupons, to candlelight dinners to write your own love story, bake a cake and some well “censored ideas” were also there, which I will leave it up to you to discover.

I thought let us stick with a safe plan and asked a friend, who knows both of us to give me some ideas. She suggested I write a “50 reasons I love about you!” I told her why could not I do just 25, she said “Don’t be lazy, come on, you’ve got to work hard in love!” She reminded me to reminisce about the days when we swore of mills and boon romance.

Suddenly the the idea of writing a “50 things or 50 reasons” seemed manageable to me. So I sat in front of the computer and started to think…. By the time I reached number 10, I was fairly exhausted. I tried real hard, to come up “I love that you never leave the fridge open, “I love that you decided to stop listening to Himesh Reshammiya,” “I love that you love south Indian food…” But each time I closed my eyes and tried to think an “I love reason” a few images came in front of my eyes, that just refused to go away. Each time I tried, I could not take my eyes off the TOILET SEAT that you never put down…. Sorry, babe that is a big one. There were others too, like how you dunk the restroom with room freshener after you have smoked (Yeah, babe I know about that too) or how you try desperately to pretend to like Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, when I know that you are secretly checking something on that I-phone.

So, I decided to trust my instinct and go with the basics. Hang in there with me, I do have a point….I went back in time and remembered myself as an extremely self-conscious (I still am) teenager and you were probably the only person who took me seriously. I tried to remember that time and asked myself why did we fall in love in the first place? I tried hard but I still don’t remember why? Does it even matter I tell myself…

And then epiphany struck or maybe I am just a hopeless romantic (here’s when you blame Mills & Boon, Jane Austen and even a little bit of Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra). I have begun to think that when you truly love someone, you do not have to find reasons to love them. You just love everything about them and it is difficult to put a finger at just that one point…

Love, probably, is that “irrational” feeling which Munnabhai calls “Chemical Locha….” Or Chemical imbalance. When you meet that someone, you know that rationale and logic goes out of the window.  Or else why would I suddenly ditch my fandom for Aamir Khan and join the legion of Shah Rukh Khan fans?

Love, also means different things to different people and means different things at different times. I remember when I was 16, I thought your jokes were out of this world and 20-years later, well I think “some” of your jokes are out of the world….But honey, your excuses for not putting that toilet seat down are getting stale… You need to work on them… However, life is not about the jokes and the toilet seats…

I remember a few years ago, when a friend joked, “How do you feel about your wife wearing the pants…” And, you say “Well, she looks good in pants…. Its 21st century after all…Plus pants are cheaper than saris…”  Or when you gently chided a young cousin for whistling at a girl… It is in moments like this that I get puppy faced…. And I am willing to forgive you for sleeping through Sense and Sensibility…

Thus, it is decided that my anniversary gift to you is a plaque reading, “I henceforth relinquish my right to grumble about the toilet seat staying up, as long as you keep coming up with smart repartees….” Plus can you also agree that Pierce Brosnan makes a better James Bond than Daniel Craig…. 

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Hustle N Bustle

I am going to be watching the much talked about American Hustle, tonight. I love Jennifer Lawrence and was kind of disappointed with the way her character Katniss comes across in the sequel to Hunger Games…. But I have huge hopes from American Hustle. 

Will try and write how it is after I watch it

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She’s Crazy…..

They say she’s crazy
That’s how they silence her
They want her to go away so far
That they cannot hear what she has to say
You ask why?
Because her crazy voice, tells them what they refuse to hear
However, little do they know….That the harder they try to drive her away…. The stronger she becomes

Also they are unaware that just maybe she is addictive and….

Her exit may encourage someone else’s rise….

Someone stronger and more potent than her …

If not now, maybe a few years down the line…

And you wonder where the crazy one goes to?
Well she retreats to her shell, she sits there and plots her next move….

She thinks of ways to show them the reality that they are trying to run away….

She thinks of ways to tell them stories that they try so hard to forget….

She thinks of showing them pictures that they have refused to see….

She talks about people that they smirk at or ignore….

She makes them look at their privilege

When they silence her, she becomes stronger….

Her resolve to make herself heard becomes stronger….

The more they call her crazy, the more she believes that she is right….
Maybe the world is not ready for her craziness, yet, she tells herself…

But she is sure that someday, the world will be ready for her….

Till then she hopes to rest in her shell and behave like that storm before the calm…

 

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Why Do ‘They’ Love Narendra Modi ?: Shankar Gopalakrishnan

I second this Blog!!!

KAFILA - 10 years of a common journey

Guest Post by Shankar Gopalakrishnan

On August 14th, Narendra Modi declared that his Independence Day speech would attract as much attention as that of the Prime Minister. He appears to have been right. The fact that this is hardly unexpected should not obscure the deeper puzzle that it hides. It is a rare occurrence for a state level leader to suddenly get so much prominence in the media, and that too for such a long period. Why, then, have powerful forces in our society – including most of the media – chosen to endorse Modi? Why the sudden promotion of this particular leader at this particular time? What is it that he and his regime are offering?

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Different Lives Same Stories

Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak De India is an all-time favorite Movie. I like it for many reasons but mostly because for the first time I had seen a movie about Indian sportswomen. All the women in the film were real women I could identify with. However, what stays with me from the movie is a dialogue that Shah Rukh tells his female players when they have to defeat a men’s hockey team to deserve a World Cup sponsorship. SRK tells his team that they are not just fighting a hockey match, but fighting a system, a system that thinks women are not good enough and that they should stick to cooking and housekeeping.

It’s funny I watched this movie in 2007, felt it was relevant then and feel it’s relevant now. Because the larger system still thinks if women want to avoid abuse they should either have male chaperones or stay at home or not wear certain clothes. Or else why would we continuously insist on knowing what rape survivors were doing at a particular place, at a particular time, what they were wearing and why they were wearing it.

Select hospitals in the United States have something called as the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) a multidisciplinary team that helps rape and sexual assault survivors navigate the medical, legal maze and help cope with trauma. Some hospitals are declared 24-hours centers of excellence if they have Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner or the SAFE program. Hospitals certified as centers of excellence should have nurses and doctors certified and specialized in sexual assault forensic examination and their ER should have SAFER trained doctors and nurses. These services are results of years of advocacy. Prior to SAFE and SART – sexual assault survivors had to endure long waiting periods, which often resulted in loss of DNA and getting check-ups done by untrained doctors and nurses who would cause more trauma.

I am not sure if such a thing exists in India – if not I think this is an immediate need. I think it is the need of the hour, at least every district/ city in India should have this service.

I attended a SART training program, one of the most intense training programs I have ever attended. The training takes you through the medical and legal interrogation that a rape victim goes through. Shows you the medical equipment used to collect DNA, rooms where survivors are attended to. I use the word interrogated deliberately because that is how it feels.

Despite having excellent supervision, I sensed tremendous secondary trauma. In fact, for almost a week after I detested any kind of human touch. The first thing I learned in that training was NEVER ask a victim, “what were they thinking when they were in an X place, at an X time in an X outfit,” because before coming to you for help they have asked this question to themselves 10,000 times.

Self-blame and guilt is the most common feeling rape survivors across the board feel so the last thing you could do is, blame them for their plight. They will tell themselves “What if I had taken a friend along,” “What if I had cancelled the appointment?” “What if I had worn something longer?” Now, even if you are no social worker, community activist, a modern day Mother Theresa there is a basic lesson that we learn in childhood –when you have nothing nice to say, do not say it. Therefore, if you don’t know what to say, keep quiet – that way you would be helpful.

Victim blaming becomes more crucial in the Indian context because of the larger global culture of patriarchy in which we exist. Telling women that they should not step out of their homes after dark or not wear certain, kind of clothing takes women’s rights back to the stone ages when women were married of at 15 and 14 so that they would have a male chaperon and would not be raped.

Also comparing rape to other crimes minimizes a survivor’s experience. With the amount of insensitivity abound in the media and the public about rape – I think everyone should attend SART training because it gives you a good glimpse of your privilege. Rape is not a disease that goes away, rape did not happen because you ate something and it is not going to go away if you take a few shots.

I avoided writing about the Bombay gang rape for a long time, because I felt very strongly about it. Partly because I was a journalist for five-years with a leading publication in Bombay, and have friends that are very good journalists. However, I feel now, more than ever that I need to share my perspective.

My best friend/sister in India works as a senior editor for a leading financial publication in Delhi and the day this incident occurred, I spoke to her. It was 11 in the night and she was taking a cab home, I asked her if it was “safe” and she gave me a cryptic answer “As safe as I would be at 11 in the morning.” My friend is a business journalist a genre of journalism dominated by men, like most other journalism genres except lifestyle and film. This despite India’s biggest financial scam was exposed by a woman – Sucheta Dalal, who has inspired numerous young women like me and continues to do so.

As a journalist, the biggest fear I and other women face is telling our bosses we cannot do an assignment because “it is too late and we feel unsafe,” because the response is “Why did you choose to be a journalist” or even better, “She’s playing the woman card again.”

After talking to my friend, I called up my mom, because I was worried that this incident may have affected her. So I ask her, “lady, I never reached home before 11 but you never warned me about the miscreants on the street! Did you not care for my safety and welfare?” She replied, “I don’t want my daughter to think she cannot follow her dream because of some ****heads.” Well, she did not say ****head; her language is not as colorful as mine.

When I decided to go to journalism, my best friend from college also wanted to study journalism, however, her family did not want her to be a journalist because it was “not a field for women!” I am thankful my parents never said that to me, I never grew up thinking that “I cannot do something because I am a girl!”

As a journalist I covered, my share of late evening assignments not just in secluded isolated places but also press release functions at posh restaurants and I felt ambivalent about either. Most events say they will begin at 5 but none of them start before 7 and I lived away from the city so had to travel another hour and half to get home only to get back to work at 8 the next day. Why? Because, the reader did not care that I was working till 11 last night, they care about their morning newspaper.

The thought of safety never occurred, because I always thought I was doing my job the best way I could. I wanted to do the best stories not because I wanted an award but because I wanted to tell people true stories and give voice to those that never heard one. I was not surprised when I read about a 22-year-old journalist being gang raped, because reading about gang rapes, is at least for me, has become like an everyday occurrence. What really impacted me is when a colleague, said why we lacked the same empathy or attention span when the victim belonged to a strata different from ours?

However, I had barely recovered from the trauma of other blatant rapes being unreported in smaller villages and towns that I heard people asking, “What was she doing there?” if someone asked me this question I would tell them “She was just doing her job, uncovering a scam?” Now if a cop got hurt catching a thief, would you ask the cop “hey why did you run after the thief, you know he could harm you?” Would you ask the cop “Why were you on night duty – when you know there are miscreants around?” You would not, because that is the cop’s job. You would also give the cop a medal and applaud them for their bravery. Similarly a journalist’s job, at least this is what I was taught in journalism school, is to bring the truth to light. However, a journalist tries to do her job but is harmed by some hooligans and what do we do? We tell her too bad, “you have not heard of prevention being better than cure!” “Why did you decide to venture into an unsafe place, which is ignored by locals?”

Like I said before, she might have asked herself this question 1000 times and is going to ask it to herself till she lives. Her reporting this event lead to the reveal that four more women were raped and had she not spoken up, probably, more women would have become victims.

My second job involved interviewing celebrities and often interviews happen at a celebrity’s residence. I once interviewed this popular married actor at his residence in suburban Bombay. The interview was just before the release of this person’s film, after I finished the interview at 5 in the evening I packed to leave, but this person involved me in a random mundane conversation. He told me how he was from a different state and was having trouble making friends in Bombay. He insisted I have a drink with him and watch a movie, when I refused and said it was getting late and I needed to get going he offered to drop me home.

When I refused, he actually had the nerve to pull my hand and say I was being “rude” and threatened to “end my career”. He also added that I would look “prettier if I was friendlier.” I pushed him, picked my bag and stormed out of his apartment. Called my editor and told her what happened. Those five-minutes were the most terrifying moments of my life. I have no idea how and where I gathered the courage to push him and get home.

When my editor called up this star and tried to talking to him, he claimed I was rude and asked ‘too many personal questions. And that our magazine should forget about any interview with him in the future.” After promising me that we would boycott this celebrity, my editor continued to publish his interviews. The only change – she would now send a male reporter to interview him.

So I was not in a secluded, lonely place with a bunch of hood looms – I was in a high-rise neighborhood, with a celebrity, who has a good public reputation? But, had I ended up in the same situation as this 22-year-old, I would still be asked, “Why were you there?”

Contrary to me, my sister happens to be a nurse – a profession dominated by women. But, really is she any safer than I was? Aruna Shanbag a nurse was raped while on night duty, and she still lies in a comatose state in the same hospital that she worked for. Her abuser got out of jail after eight-years, now my question is would you ask Aruna, or any of the other nurses that take care of old, frail and sick, why don’t they refuse night shifts?

29-year-old Mala, a single mom, works in my house. On her way to work one day a man stalked and tried to grope her. This was at 10, in the morning in a crowded neighborhood, when Mala kicked him, he slapped her and threw her to the ground and ran away. Nobody helped her; rather a vegetable vendor told her “if you walk like this, this will happen!” After giving Mala first aid, my mother accompanied Mala to the police station to file a complaint. My dad went to look for the guy but never found him. My dad asked Mala if he should drop her home and pick her the next day. Mala says, “I cannot stop living because of such people. I don’t have a choice; you cannot be my chaperon for life. What will my daughters learn?”

I don’t think I was being stupid, nor was the 22-year-old journalist and neither was Mala being stupid we were doing our jobs. And, even if we were not doing our job and were simply out for a stroll – I don’t think we should be asked why we were out and deserve to be raped or groped. It is a free country, and like men we also want to enjoy what I consider a basic human right.

I have always felt that I am more sensitive to issues of women, part of it because I envision a better future beholds my younger sisters, daughters and granddaughters. Just like women before us who fought for women’s right to vote, who fought against evil societal norms and broke barriers so we could have better I think we owe it to the next generation. In school, we learn that women fought in the war for independence, well if those women could go out and fight for their country – don’t the women of today deserve to be able to go to work, without worrying about the time or about not having a chaperon?

Victim blaming and minimizing rape in a way contributes to rape culture. It is not only insensitive and disrespectful to the victim but also hurts the great work done by numerous activists of the past.

Part of me feels that as a society, we have progressed, but when I hear someone indulge in victim blaming I am hurt. However, I am more hurt when women indulge in victim blaming because I feel as women we need to have more solidarity because in a way we have all at some point experienced an unwanted touch, comment or gaze. Across the board, we may have different life trajectories but a lot of our experiences would be same. I don’t think a journalist, today, feels any safer than a teacher, a nurse or an engineer or doctor – so we are in this fight together, because if not us at least our daughters deserve better!

P. S – Even if you disagree be kind in your responses, this is a sensitive issue

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Empathy Where Art Thou?

I am feeling particularly hopeless this morning, the world’s preoccupation with being sarcastic or rude without a reason makes me unhappy. You don’t have to walk in someone’s shoes to be nice, have folks forgotten life 101 – when you do not have anything nice to say to someone, don’t say anything at all! 

I wonder am I feeling this hopeless only because I am sitting behind a computer and most of my interactions are with folks online and given that the internet gives you the power of anonymity maybe people find it powerful to be rude and arrogant or rather have no kindness for folks that lead a different lifestyle or make different choices.

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Dear Jiah We are Sorry

A year ago when Bal Thackeray passed away and Bombay was submerged in what I call a “forced mourning” and the man awarded with a national guard of honor I learnt an important lesson. No matter what you do when you die people forget all your ills! I guess it is said that it is bad to badmouth a dead person when they can no longer come back and defend it! So what if they are single-handedly responsible in destroying a city’s cultural fabric, waging war on religious minorities and encouraging caste and religion based politics!

Sadly though when a 25-year-old young girl decides to end her life we call her a coward, a fool for having fallen in love and given up her life! Makes me wonder what kind of a world are we living in? Can’t we have some sympathy for the young girl and for a minute judge the world we live in rather than judging Jiah’s lifestyle choices? I feel sick that at 25 Jiah felt like she had no choices and nowhere to go. I have certainly felt that way a few times, how did I survive those times – my support system in family & friends helped me see through the rough times. I think we are increasingly losing the sense of community that we once had. Nobody has time to sit and talk unless they get something in return and qualities such as sarcasm & cut-throat competition are being passed on as virtues. Whereas empathy and sensitivity are being viewed as human weakness.

Jiah’s mother recently released a letter she found in her daughter’s closet and when I read it my heart went out to her and I felt like the world around Jiah had failed and not she. Have we not created a world that judges an individual based on either the success of their professional or personal life. And how does one even define that success? Walking out of an abusive relationship unscarred sounds like success to me but in the wider culture sticking in an abusive marriage is considered success!

Apart from Jiah, who made it to page 1 there was a 16-year-old teenager who committed suicide because she failed her SSC exams – she made it to page 4 of mid-day. I think it is not their personal qualities or the lack thereof that led to their tragic deaths I think it is our society’s failure. I think we killed Jiah and the 16-year-old and yet we have the gall to blame them and judge them. We would have given them the national guard, however, if they had killed a few minorities and died of natural causes at 90!