Category: Social Issues

The Understated Feminism Of Sherni


One of the newest and the most talked about movies released recently has been “Sherni” on Amazon Prime. Vidya Balan plays the lead role of Vidya Vincent, a newly appointed Divisional Forest Officer. Vidya and her team, race against time to catch a man-eating tigress who has been terrorising the villages in her area. This understated drama depicts the Man versus wild conflict along with the greed and self-absorption of the humans. There is also a strong undercurrent of feminism running through the movie. Many forest guards have been shown as women. This is true in real life as well, a fact many of us are unaware of. The character of Jyoti, a vocal local villager, shows the strength of village women who are unafraid of expressing their thoughts. The movie, however, belongs to Vidya.

When the movie starts, Vidya is not totally satisfied with her job. She complains to her husband, who lives far away in Mumbai. He argues against quitting her job since it is cushy, with job security. He, himself, has had a bad appraisal and is fearing being fired. She is not convinced but agrees. Soon, however, the tiger T12 starts terrorising the village and Vidya is drawn in. Vidya is determined to nab the tigress alive and to save it from the hunter who is determined to hunt the tigress down.

Vidya is passionately involved in her work and is honest and forthright in her dealings. But she is also aware of the rot in the system as well as her own limitation. Vidya tries to push against the odds, but in most instances, picks her battles. She speaks less, but once in a while, you see flashes of fire in her. Vidya is aware of being a woman in a profession dominated by men. You can sense her exclusion during the office party and later during the flag end of the hunt. She is quite often ignored, or her views are dismissed during interactions between office colleagues. This fact quietly underpins the boys club and sexist attitude that still prevails in our workplaces. The scene at the office party where Vidya is offered juice, but she casually asks for a whisky, underlines the unspoken boundaries we have kept for women.

Vidya’s mother-in-law( played brilliantly by Ila Arun) is the stereotypical mother-in-law who calls herself modern and open-minded. She is the poster girl of how ingrained the expectations are from an Indian daughter-in-law. Through the character of Vidya’s mother and her mother-in-law, the director shows the double standards of most Indian households. The pressure on the daughter-in-law to be presentable all the time. The onus on the daughter-in-law to produce the precious grandchild. The decision might be the couple’s but the pressure will always on “bahu“.

One of the most hard-hitting scenes is the one at the dinner party at Professor Noorani’s house. On Vidya and Professor Noorani, having to leave for an emergency, Vidya’s mother-in-law asks Vidya to either postpone going in the night or else, take Vidya’s husband along for “safety” sake. The scene was almost absurdly ironic. Vidya’s husband, who has no qualms about Vidya living alone, is suddenly worried about the danger Vidya is in because she has to leave in the middle of dinner. He tries to assume the role of “protector“. I simply loved how quietly and firmly Vidya reminds him that this is her job.


In these days of in-your-face OTT series and movies, Sherni is a stark departure, with its languid pace and almost negligible drama. “Sherni” is not a very vocal feminist movie. There are no long-winded lectures as to what all a woman is capable of. It is subtle, without much moralising or drama. It quietly shows the state of affairs, leaving it to the spectators to draw their own conclusion. And therein lies the USP of the film, it makes the viewer think.

This post is part of Blogchatter’s #CauseAChatter – #GenderTalks campaign

The Power Of A Teacher

A few days ago, a young government teacher of Zila Parishad Primary School, Paritewadi, India became famous overnight. He was awarded the prestigious Global Teacher’s Prize worth $1 million. The teacher’s name was Ranjitsinh Disale. Ranjitsinh Disale had wanted to pursue engineering, but due to family circumstances, he opted for teacher training college. When he joined as a government school teacher, he was taken aback by the problems and the lack of facilities. Instead of losing hope, he decided to take proactive steps. He learnt the local language so that he could communicate with student and parents in their language. He made special efforts for the education of girl students (one of the most overlooked sections in rural India). His most famous method was introducing QR codes in textbooks. Using these QR codes, students could access quizzes and extra material to help them understand the concepts. These QR codes made a marked difference during school shutdown in the current pandemic. Ranjitsinh’s action after winning the award was even more heartwarming. He shared half of the award money with the remaining finalists, thus encouraging and supporting these teachers too. His act of sharing the prize money paid tribute to a profession which is important but usually overlooked.


(Picture from IndianExpress.in)

Too often, children from marginalized or poor backgrounds leave school, either due to economic or cultural reasons. The fact remains that for each child who leaves school, the future of the country becomes a little dimmer. The pandemic has brought to the forefront the class divide amongst people. Lack of resource for devices and the internet has meant that many children have dropped out of the school system, unable to keep up with their course work. Teachers like Ranjitsinh Disale become even more praiseworthy as they are trying to ensure that lack of resources should not become a stumbling block for such children.



“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world,” said Malala Yosufzai. This powerful statement underlines the importance of education. Education not only opens doors but also makes us capable of being independent enough to think for ourselves. For any society to prosper, we need people who can think critically, analytically and independently. The Global Teacher Prize is important not because it carries the hefty cash prize of one million dollars. The award is important as it a recognition of the efforts of teachers. Teachers are beacons of hope, they lay the foundation for the lives to come. A good teacher, one who thinks beyond the 3R’s, can mould children with kindness and empathy. Empathetic children grow up to be conscientious members of society who work for the betterment of the nation.

And therein lies the true wealth of a country.


To know more about Ranjitsinh Disale’s exemplary work, click here Ranjitsinh Disale.

Click here to know more about Global Teacher Prize

On Growing Older

This year on my Birthday, I not only turn a year but also a decade older. I am now firmly ensconced in the so-called “middle-age” category. This realization set thoughts turning in my head. When you are in the middle-age group you are struck with the fact that the years have suddenly added up to a big enough number. Despite the facials and the expensive face-creams, there are a few lines on your face. You get tired more often than you previously did, maybe now spectacles are needed to read the restaurant menu and the rich gravies of restaurant dinners can lead to severe heartburn. The night about town on stilettos gives way to binge-watching shows on Netflix, sitting on your couch in your jammies.

We suddenly wake up one day, look in the mirror and are suddenly dissatisfied. We are dissatisfied with our appearance, our weight, our hair, and our routine mundane lives. We look at celebrities gracing the covers of tabloids, looking exactly the same as they did twenty years ago, gallivanting off to exotic locations. We look at them and we wonder, “Why not me?” We are bombarded with advertisements of Olay, Nivea, Loreal, all selling youth. They want us to use them, to banish any faint lines that might dare to show on our faces. We color and volumize our hair so that it may look better and not show that we went through pregnancies and childbirth. We go on diets and to Zumba classes, not just because we want to get our cholesterol into range, but mainly so that we can fit into dresses which were bought ten years ago. Some of us manage to do all this and more. Most of us, despite our best efforts, fail. And this failure, further adds to our sense of inadequacies.

We have put unbelievable amounts of pressure on ourselves to look younger than our years. We are so scared of being labeled as the neighborhood “auntie” that we try our level best to be the lissome twenty-five-year old that we were. Whereas once we eagerly wanted to grow older and more independent, we now want to go back to those younger carefree days.”You look younger than your age”  or “You have maintained yourself so well” are the compliments we always aim for. Woe betides if someone guesses our age or the (horror!!!) thinks we are older than what we actually are!!

The beauty industry, celebrity culture, social media, and society, in general, have somehow made getting older a taboo. Despite all the articles on body positivity and acceptance the truth of the matter is we are living in a visual world. We have become so obsessed with our appearances that we, quite often, forget about the person underneath. We forget that the person might have got those frown lines worrying about the health of a parent, those grey hair might be due to the stress of the job and meeting deadlines, the chipped and cracked nails may be due to cooking healthy so that the children get a nutritious meal.

We want to look younger, not realizing that we are not the same people anymore. The person whom we were twenty years ago has been shaped and molded by the experiences of life, the good times, the moments of darkness, the moments of self-doubt and the moments of accomplishment. All these moments have made us the person we are now.

And I guess it is time to accept that fact.

Television and Feminism

I have always been addicted to Television, from the days of Doordarshan when the hours of telecast were few, to the days of unlimited cable service to the days of Internet TV with choices like Netflix and Amazon Prime. When all the household chores are done and I am in no mood to tax my brain to do some reading, I vegetate in front of the TV. In the days of Doordarshan, there was no choice, you watched what was on, that too it was available only for a few hours a day.  Whether it was “Udaan”, a series about a brave woman IPS officer, or poor Lady Sita crying buckets of tears, waiting for Lord Ram to come to rescue her, I lapped it up! With the advent of cable TV in India, Ekta Kapoor, burst into our homes. Her serials with the mother-in-laws, daughter-in-laws, sarees, palatial homes, big bindis, joint families all were in vogue. Most of these serials were regressive, to put it mildly, but the Indian public was quite enamoured of them. The serials soon descended into bizarre territory with the “dayans”, “nagins” et all.

I was almost cured of my affliction to watch Television by such programs when Netflix burst on the screen. There was suddenly this huge volume of series and movies from all across the world at the click of a button. The genres varied from comedies to drama to action to lifestyle to reality TV. After the initial heady days, when I couldn’t figure out what to pick and watch, I realised that Netflix was a treasure trove of series from across the world, documentaries and independent movies. One particular series which acted as a catalyst for this post was “Working Moms”. This series is about a group of young mothers, who are about to re-join the workforce after their maternity leaves are over. The series shows issues from post-partum depression to giving full attention to your job without neglecting your child to finding yourself again as a woman, to not look at yourself as a mom or a wife, but as a woman. The series is light-hearted but touches the topics which most of us mothers have had to deal with. These are the issues which usually get over-looked or swept under the carpet, which is why most of us would empathize with the characters; you have been in their shoes, some point in your life.

This series made me realise that there is a lot of content on Netflix/Amazon Prime which can be labelled feminist, some direct while others might be a little subtle. The documentary, “Period, End of Sentence”, shows patriarchy in rural Haryana and how the installation of sanitary napkin machine chips away at the same patriarchy. “Soni” is a movie about two female police officers working for Delhi Police. Even though the protagonists are police officers, they are still shackled because they are women. It shows the struggle is not only with the outside world but also within our homes.

“Made In Heaven” and “One Day At a Time” are series which have a strong feminist core but belong to the mainstream commercial stream. “One Day at a Time” is about a Latina single mother of two who is an ex-army nurse. So the main character is a Latina, divorced, suffering from PTSD and a woman, all the odds definitely seem to be stacked against her! The series however never becomes morbid or depressing even though the topics it touches are very pertinent in today’s world.

“Made In Heaven” is this season’s favourite. It is about Indian society viewed through the lens of weddings. It shows hypocrisy, patriarchy, adultery, superstition and the inherent bias (of even educated Indian people)to homosexuality. By first look, it seems that the series is a fluffy take on the high society weddings of Delhi, with protagonists wearing designer wear, looking extremely polished and talking impeccable English. You delve deeper however and the world turns darker, behind the glitter is the grime of our society, dowry, superstition, exploitation of the weaker sections, the abuse of power. The fascinating part is that it is a mainstream show, produced by a  leading commercial team, yet the topics are not safe, they will make you uncomfortable and push you out of your zone.

Television and movies are mainstream mediums. they reach and influence a large number of people. They have the ability to bore into the minds of the people watching, which is why content is very important,you cannot negate the fact that Ekta Kapoor’s serials, howsoever regressive, influenced the popular culture and to a certain measure even the thought process of the individuals watching them. We cannot generalise and say that there have not been any feminist shows on Television, there was “Udaan” way back on Doordarshan, even “Balika Badhu” started off with a strong feminist core. It is equally not correct to assume that all the content on the web has feminism at its core or is non-regressive. One advantage which the web series do have over regular cable television is the freedom from certain regulations which in turn leads to better content on Netflix/Prime as compared to regular cable tv.  I am quite sure if there was no Netflix/Prime we wouldn’t have had outstanding series like “Sacred Games” or “Inside Edge” or the more recent one “Delhi Crime”. Since the web platform is more content based, lots of small documentaries and independent movies now have a place where they can be seen. A movie like “Soni” or “Manto” has no chance of getting a commercial release, even though they have done brilliantly in the festival circuit. Netflix/Prime give them a chance, that they can be viewed at least by some people who might be interested in such topics. People might argue that India is not ready for such programs, but does that mean we should be exposed to the mind-numbing, logic-defying content, rather than something which echoes what real life is?

The basic reason why we watch Television is entertainment, but if the same entertainment also ignites a spark in us, makes us introspect or be more empathetic then it’s double the value, no?

Bravehearts

“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.”

These words from the poem “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” are often quoted to show the dedication of the armed force. The CRPF personnel massacred in Pulwama were also following orders. The nation was still coming to grips with it when there was another encounter and four more Bravehearts lost their lives. This one hit harder home as one of the Bravehearts Major Dhoundiyal, was from my hometown of Dehradun. The news channels and Indian twitter was awash with the scenes of brave send off by the wife of Major Dhoundiyal. Shock, horror, anger, sadness, these myriad emotions chased one another in my mind when I first read about the carnage in Pulwama. My eyes couldn’t help but water up at visuals, first the tricolour-draped coffins, scenes of the carnage and then the young lady’s courage.

My father sent me a picture of the newspaper, there were two stories side by side. The first was about Major Dhoundiyal, his martyrdom and his brave wife. The second story was about the rent owed by the former chief ministers to the state of Uttarakhand for overstaying the in official accommodations. My father asked us for our views/reactions to the two stories. At first, the two stories had me dumbfound, a little later I was filled with a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. The two news reports showed the dichotomy of Indian society. The first news report showed the courage of a simple yet extraordinary family, of how even their lives don’t matter if for the greater good of the country. The second news report showed the dishonest politicians, the ones who have made a career out of siphoning money and are not even the teeniest bit apologetic about it.

I fail to see a future for a country where the politicians, like parasites, keep sucking the money and resources meant for the nation. A country where soldiers and policemen are treated as cannon fodder to pander to the delusions of grandeur by the politicians. A country which uses the Republic Day parade to massage the ego of a nation who, in truth, doesn’t really seem to be much interested in the welfare of people who protect our country. While we all watch, hearts swelling with pride, the columns marching by; While we listen to the politicians mouthing empty platitudes; The same governments sign their death warrants when they sign defence deals for sub-standard products and pocket millions of dollars; When they make wrong policy decisions and send these brave men to the point of the no return.

The point to ponder is if only the politicians are to be blamed and not the citizens of India? It would be a fallacy to put the entire blame only on the corrupt politician and absolve ourselves of the moral duty as citizens of this country. We have been given the power of the vote, unfortunately, most of us vote according to our caste, region or religion. We let the politicians get away with pocketing the change as we do not hold them responsible for their work and policies. We, in fact, accept the corruption of the politicians( irrespective of party lines) and therein lies the biggest problem of our democracy “Accountability”. We do not hold our politicians accountable and thus they behave with impunity. If you hear any politician’s speech, the blunder is always made by the other party, they themselves will never, ever own up to their failures and their ineptitudes. Apart from harming the nation, this has affected our armed services the most. For us the scams of defence deals like Bofors, MIG parts and Rafale are only newspaper news, it is our armed forces who have to bear the full brunt of these. The citizens of our country rather than asking our netas questions fall in the trap of endless shouting matches which masquerade as TV debates. Our patriotism is somehow limited to shouting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” or in forwarding Whatsapp messages and sharing videos on Facebook. We get agitated and influenced by the people spewing venom instead of words and start baying for blood, without any thought of consequences.

Maybe its time we made our politicians accountable. The next time your neta comes asking for the vote, ask them. Ask them what they did with their MPLADS fund, ask them about what they did about development in your area, ask them to show you the proof, ask them about their foreign junkets and farmhouses, ask them about the cases pending against them, ask them about the cases against them which vanished the moment they came in power. Make them accountable rather than accepting it and saying “Yeh India hai, Yahan sab chalta hai”.

The time is ripe in India for the mandatory draft for all the citizens of India. I am quite sure that the Armed forces will not be happy with all the riff-raff coming in but I do think that this is the only way that our armchair patriots and defence experts will learn what truly loving the country means. It will teach them the courage to actually work for their country and not just wave the tricolour on 15th August and 26th January. The so-called activists of all the parties, the ones who stand up for our culture, our religion, our cow, our downtrodden, our secularism, should be the first ones to be drafted under this scheme. Maybe then they will realise what facing the enemy truly means(and no it doesn’t mean beating up someone just because they disagreed with you).

In this age of instant news and social media, the martyrdom of these soldiers will be buried under other news very soon( it is already happening, barely a week after the first attack). There is an old song sung by Lata Mangeshkar, “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon” which implores people to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers It is a song we all should listen to, over and over again, lest we forget that martyrdom of even a single soldier doesn’t only affect his family, his village, his town, but it affects the nation as a whole.

I am not a trained analyst who can objectively look at issues and find a solution. I am a simple person who is affected by the senseless loss of lives. Ideally, I would like to live in a world which has no conflict, but I am a realist enough to know that it is not possible. I can, however, hope and pray that such horror doesn’t happen again.

What is in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
                                     By any other name would smell as sweet.”

 

These oft-repeated clichéd words were written by Shakespeare in his famous play Romeo and Juliet. The literal translation is even if you rename rose with some other name, it’s perfume and beauty will not be diminished, in other words, the beauty of the rose is not dependent on its name. This quote has been going around in my head ever since I read that the name of the city Allahabad has been renamed to Prayagraj and more recently Faizabad was renamed to Ayodhya.

I have had a fascination for names of places/localities in cities. The older localities in cities and small towns throw up such odd/weird yet mind-boggling names. For example in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, you have areas called as “Lal Kurti”, “Budhana Gate” and even a “Jali Kothi”. Even the more colonial Dehradun has localities like “Khurbura” and “Jhanda Mohalla”. The capital of Lucknow has areas like “Telibag”. Contrast this with the names of the new areas of the towns, you will find an MG Road, a Shastri Nagar and a Mayur Vihar in almost all the towns of North India. There is a uniformity which is boring, bland and somewhat political as well when names of new localities are influenced by the political masters. When I hear names like “Lal Kurti” I wonder how did they get such bizarre though unique names. All these names point to the past in which some incident/person/or use led to a particular name being associated with the area and over a period of time became the given formal name of that particular area, giving a distinct flavour to cities. Now suddenly the Government of India has also started taking interest in names of cities. According to the latest report, about 24 cities/towns have been given the approval to change their names with many more proposals for a name change on the cards.

While the history of words/names is not a very popular branch, in recent years the Government of India seems to be suddenly interested in it. It has started tracing back the names of the cities all the way back to ancient India and is now on a renaming spree. Thus the anglicized Baroda became Vadodara, colonial Calcutta became Kolkatta, Islamic Allahabad became Prayagraj, a caravanserai on the GT Road changed from Mughal Sarai to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhaya Nagar. There are now clamours to change Ahmedabad to Karnavat and Agra to Agravan. People seem to believe that we should go back to our roots from whence we came. The ancient name of Allahabad was Prayagraj and thus we should go back to that, to take pride in our regional/religious identity. Similar arguments were given for renaming Bombay, Calcutta, Bangalore, Madras, the list seems to be growing each day. Name of a city has now been associated with nationalistic, regional and religious pride. What the renamers forget, is to go back to the roots is to actually lose the identity and the growth of the city. Prayagraj in ancient times grew, became a city, was renamed to Allahabad, grew again. Over the years it assimilated cultures, people, customs leading to the Allahabad city of now. Renaming it back to Prayagraj will not take us back in ancient times and erase Allahabad, Allahabad is an indistinguishable part of today’s Prayagaraj. Changing the name of the city does not mean the city itself has changed, like the rose, the city with its charms, idiosyncrasies and problems, remains the same.

By a stroke of their pen the governments might change the name of the cities but can they change the city itself?  Calcutta was renamed Kolkatta, but can they change the fact that before the British established their trading post on the banks of Hoogly, it was a small hamlet. It was Calcutta, the trading post established by the British, which became the Capital of India until it was shifted to New Delhi. It was Calcutta which gave us stalwarts like Tagore, Mother Teresa and Satyajit Ray. Bombay was renamed to Mumbai, but can they change the fact that before the British, Mumbai was a fishing hamlet. British made Bombay the financial hub it is now by joining the seven islands of Bombay. Renaming it to Mumbai does not erase that fact. Nor does renaming it to Mumbai change the spirit of Bombay. The fact is that the city still remains the city of dreams, a city where everything is possible.

I sometimes wonder if the current or a future government would try to change the name of Capital of India since that is also of British origin. New Delhi, where the current government and ministers reside, was built by Lord Lutyen when the capital was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi and inaugurated in 1931. If so, will they go back to Indraprastha or will they take into consideration Siri, Ferozabad, Tughlaqabad, Shahjehanabad or Dilli as well, since those too, were the names for the city?

I recently read a book by a Pakistani author the premise of which was how systematically the successive governments of Pakistan renamed the Hindu areas/cities in an effort to erase its Hindu past.  The similarity with the current renaming spree in India cannot be missed. The politicians seemed to have missed the point that History cannot be erased, it happened, and that needs to be accepted as a fact.No one possesses a time machine to go back to change the parts of history which are abhorrent. It is the future of our country that we have control over. We can either keep renaming cities, harking back to days of lost glory and ancient pride, or we can work to make our cities reach new heights with better infrastructure, facilities, sanitation and health services so that we actually have something to take pride in.

In the meantime, since according to Shakespeare the name doesn’t really matter and the core remains the same, I am going to continue using the names Calcutta, Bombay, Gurgaon, Madras and CP( how I hate the name Rajiv Chowk!!)!

Breaking The Bonds

“The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land” was a fictional short story written by Twinkle Khanna based on Arunachalam Muruganantham who developed low-cost sanitary napkins for women in rural India. Last week the movie released with superstar Akshay Kumar playing reel life Arunachalam Muruganatham in the movie and we took our sons along to watch the movie. Most of our friends commented that the boys wouldn’t have understood the movie and I partially agree with them. It may be true that the boys would not have understood the movie now but hopefully, something would have registered. Something, which when the time comes would help them in understanding and empathizing with someone else. If nothing else, they might have understood the value of social entrepreneurship where the community rather than the individual benefits.

The movie is a trailblazer for the simple reason that it has put menstrual hygiene on the big screen, something which is extremely private and in most households something to be ashamed of. The movie brings to the forefront the hypocrisy of our society where on one hand the onset of menstruation is seen as a blessing to be celebrated and on the other hand, the same “periods” can mark you to be unclean causing you to be segregated. It shows how money can be spent for offerings in temples without batting an eyelid but thinking twice about buying a product which is essential for hygiene. How people can jump on the bandwagon when you are famous but ostracise you when you try and develop something which is out of bounds in the societal norms.

This post is however not a review of the movie, brilliant though it is. This post is about trying to break the taboos.

***********************

I had my first period in the summer vacation of grade six. My mother taught me how to use/dispose of the pad, the medicine I could take for cramps etc. She, however, ended the conversation with “don’t let your father come to know when you have periods”. Now, to date, I am not sure why she said that; maybe to spare me or my father the embarrassment. The sentence, however, did put in my mind the thought that this was something which was supposed to be hidden and not to be revealed. Studying in a convent school (with the pure white uniform!) you became used to someone (or you) having an accident if you weren’t prepared, or gritting your teeth through cramps and trying to pay attention in class. Moving to a co-ed school brought more challenges as now you had no gang of girls to help you cover up. Slowly through college and subsequent move to Bangalore made me more comfortable in my own skin and periods became routine five days in a month when you got more tired than usual.However, apart from an instruction not to let my father know, I had never been stopped from doing anything or restrictions put on me during periods.

I was rudely awakened when visiting someone, I saw the daughter-in-law of the house sitting on a blanket on the floor at the back of the room. I was horrified to learn that the only reason why she was sitting there was that she was “down”. She had to spend the five days of her period sleeping/sitting on the floor, segregated from all. She and her husband were both educated from a middle-income family but they rigidly adhered to their archaic rituals. Slowly I became more aware of the conundrums about periods. On one hand, the onset of periods is marked by rituals and merriment and on the other, a lady having periods is not supposed to pray as she is deemed to be “unclean”. Periods, which can technically be seen as nature’s way to prepare the body for future children, can cause the lady having them to be ostracized and segregated from family. Periods are still referred to as the “ladies problem” even though it affects the health and hygiene of almost half the population.There is this whole aura of shame, uncleanliness, and ignorance around periods which infuriates me and makes me despondent. Even in this day and age, we keep following the rituals which have no scientific basis whatsoever. I am not advocating to shout from the rooftops when you have periods, however, to cloak it in shame is also wrong.  There is no need to wrap the packet of the napkins in the newspaper and then cover it with black plastic before handing it over to the customer ( anyway the black polythene bag is a dead giveaway!)

The children need to be taught (and not some whispered instructions) about healthy menstrual practices. There needs to be more awareness in schools, not only marketing gimmicks by Unilever and P&G but honest discussions, where different options are told and discussed with the girls. The Victorian prudishness of keeping everything under wraps needs a re-think.Even the boys need to be aware so that when they grow up,  the women in their lives are safe and happy. That the government should reduce Tax on Sanitary Napkins goes without saying. In short, the taboos surrounding periods need to be demolished one by one.

**************************

The other day at the supermarket I saw a middle-aged man buying sanitary napkins, no lady in sight with him. I realized this is the society we must aspire to build, one which recognizes and accepts that buying a sanitary napkin is as mundane and as important as buying a tooth-paste.

 

The Honor of Padmini

The first time I heard the story of Padmini, I was a four-year-old and the narrator was my grandfather. His post-dinner stories introduced me to a world of mythology, history, and folklore of India. I was captivated by the story of Padmini, I could not imagine how beautiful the queen must have been and how entranced by her Alauddin Khilji must have been to actually attack the city. The bravery of the queen to commit Jauhar than fall into the hands of the marauder fired my imagination, I could not picture out how she would have jumped into the fire. The story was soon tucked away in the recesses of the mind along with the stories of Prithviraj Chauhan and Sanghmitra,  Alexander and Porus, of Karnavati and so many more.  Even now I do not know the historical accuracy of the story, my only frame of reference is the story my grandfather told me, so many moons ago. The purpose of this post is not to debate the historical accuracy of the story. I am not a historian, I am a homemaker who has been wondering about the hoopla surrounding the making /release of this movie.

My grandfather taught me that Rajputs are a proud, brave race.  Countless stories abound about their valour, how they held out against the Mughals, fought till their last breath, how important their honour was to them. Honour, according to Collins dictionary, means doing what you believe to be right and being confident that you have done what is right. Thus, the Rajputs fought against the Mughals for their homeland and honour as they believed they were doing the right thing. Rani Padmini committed Jauhar as she believed that it was the right thing to do at that time.

Shri Rajput Karni Sena also believes it is upholding the Rajput honour by protesting against the movie Padmavati. They are choosing to uphold honour by threatening to burn down cinema halls, block the fort of Chittor(thus depriving the guides of their day’s wages and embarrass India in front of the tourists), threatening to cut-off nose/head of the actress playing the role of Rani Padmini. A conundrum isn’t it? They are proposing to uphold the honour of their clan and a woman who has been dead for seven centuries by cutting off the nose of a living woman.

The whole protest and the wrath of the protestors seem to prove the patriarchal mindset of the honour upholders. I have seen comments against the actress but none of the other two main male actors. She and her moral character have been maligned, she has been threatened with bodily harm with one person saying that her nose will be chopped off and the other saying that she will be beheaded.  She has been compared to Surpanakha, the demon princess, just because the actress spoke her own mind. They are equating an actress playing a character in a motion picture with a demon princess in mythology just because she refuses to back down and stands by her hard work.  And that seems to be their way of upholding honour, by threatening harm to the actress. The threats of the protestors alarms and horrifies me as a woman. They have spent centuries subjugating the women using arcane rituals and customs. They feel threatened by any woman who is courageous enough to stand up for her rights and speaks her mind. The only way they think they can come out stronger is not by improving themselves but by threatening the opposing person.

That the misogyny of the fringe group is blatant comes as no surprise. Rajasthan has been way backward as compared to other states in giving equal rights to women, child marriages are still prevalent, girl to boy ratio is abysmal and the most recent documented case of Sati was in 1987 (more than 150 years after Sati was abolished). But how did a fringe group from Rajasthan become so powerful that four states of Indian Republic are calling for a ban/change in the movie? Is it because the elections are around the corner and they need the powerful  “caste” vote, for the political parties, the women are not a vote-block.

Even more surprising is the fact that the Karni Sena and BJP leaders have been shooting their mouths off without any fear or repercussions. Prime Minister Modi who was elected with a massive mandate and coined the inspirational slogan “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao”  to save the girl child is also silent on the issue. While I totally agree that he is the Prime Minister of the country and thus has too much on his plate, his inaction and silence on the issue seems suspicious, especially now that the PM’s pet, Yogi Adityanath has also spoken out against the movie. The Karni Sena protest seems to have brought to the fore once again the point that dissent against the ruling government is not acceptable. If you are not toeing the government’s line you are branded either anti-national; a communist; if you are a Muslim then you will be asked to leave India; easiest is to defame you if you are a woman, simply threaten to cut off the nose.

The protest also raises the issue of the difference between the real and imaginary. The line between History, historical fiction and folklore are thin, but it is there. Most of the historical movies and serials (which are absolutely appalling in my opinion) are factually incorrect. They are dramatized, fictional interpretations of a story. Especially in India, purely historical movies are seldom even fifty percent accurate, a fact which most of us seem to have forgotten. It is cinema, it is supposed to take cinematic liberties and it rarely sticks to facts as facts are hardly entertaining. The people, however, seem to think it is history. History has always been a contentious subject in India, rather than looking at History as plain facts, successive governments have put their political colour on it, making it factually ambiguous.

I recently read the statement by the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh saying that Mr.Bhansali, the director of the movie, should not play with the emotions of the people. Emotions of the people are the easiest excuse which people give to protest against books, movies, shows, art. We, the people, are to be blamed in this case. When we gave in and banned the book Lajja; when we gave in and banned the movie Water, we gave in to such hooliganism. We gave them the right to protest and create a ruckus in the garb of “people’s emotions”. Somehow “people’s emotions” has become a synonym for using brawn over brain and push to get your way. I am surprised when such people’s emotions are not hurt when there are long power cuts or when trains don’t run on time or when roads are riddled with potholes or when it is not safe for a woman to step out of the house after dark. I guess the “emotions” are all spent up by that time.

I personally am not very fond of Sanjay Bhansali’s movies. They are too grandiose, every frame is just too perfect, the movies are too long and too many cinematic liberties are taken.  Some even say that such controversies are created by him just before the release of his movies to ensure that he gets spectacular openings and his films are a hit. It may or may not be true, but even if it were true, does it excuse the direction the protests have taken against the lead actress? It should be alarming to the general populace of the country that someone can threaten to cut off one’s nose just because one has spoken her mind.I don’t see any protests for the “honour” of the actress.

You know what the biggest irony is? None of the people who are protesting against the movie have actually seen the movie. It is the classic case of the cart before the donkey where they are protesting a slight they “imagine” in the movie.

Maybe before they look out for the honour of the clan they first look up what honor really means.

Or maybe they have confused honor with ego?

Lost…..

Ask any friend of ours and they will agree that we, as a family, love to travel and even land up having a few adventures while doing so. This year was no different and on our recent trip to India, we again had an adventure. Yearly we travel to India to meet our family during the summer break and this year the last stop was my parent’s house in Dehradun. On the way from the railway station to my father’s house, we decided to hire an auto due to loads of luggage. On reaching the house, however, we forgot to take out an important piece of baggage from the back; it was our laptop bag containing our laptop, iPad, Kindle and hubby’s beloved camera. The absence of the bag was noticed after a considerable delay of about four hours. Hubby and Father rushed to the railway station to find the auto which had been hired in the morning, but the search was futile and they returned empty handed. Would-have-been and what-can-be-done conversations were held. Everyone, mentally or verbally, assumed the bag was lost for good. The technologically savvy gave the advice to try and find the iPad through “Find my iPhone App” (which let me tell you will work only if the device is connected to the internet), the lost mode was also switched on. However, these were just activities for giving us mental satisfaction and no real result. Early next day morning the duo again went to the station to try and find the auto driver, and by a quirk of faith, they did find him! The driver, however, proved recalcitrant and denied any knowledge of the bag. We were back to square one.  After much deliberations and advice from various quarters, it was decided to formally lodge a complaint with police regarding lost articles. By now, we had given up all hope of recovering the bag, though whenever an auto passed the house, I used to hope against hope that it was the auto driver coming to give the bag he had just found.

Slowly we accepted the loss and moved on. Hubby went back to work after his holiday got over and the boys also learned to entertain themselves without their iPad.

About ten days after the incident my best friend from school called and had a startling piece of information to give. A lady had called her claiming to have found the bag and asking for our whereabouts. I was shell-shocked! I called the lady in question and it did seem as if she was in the possession of our bag. She asked us to come to pick up the bag and off we all rushed post haste! The bag was indeed ours and we just could not believe that all the things were found and in the same places where we had packed. Apparently, a group of painters had found the bag while taking out their possessions from the back of an auto while they were going out of Dehradun for some work. They thought it more prudent to take the bag along with them and then try and trace the owners, instead of leaving it in the auto. First, as they were out of the station and then later, as they were not very technologically savvy they were unable to trace the owners (us). They then met the lady who helped them, found the contacts on the iPad and randomly called my friend. To cut a very long story short all of us were surprised, baffled and over the moon at having recovered our things.

It was series of random events, we leaving the bag in the auto, the good samaritans finding it, the Samaritans asking the lady to help, the lady randomly picking my best friend’s name out of contact list as it had “Delhi” suffixed to her name, my friend on an off chance picking up a call from an unknown number (which none of us usually do) and my friend having the patience to talk to a random stranger. Thankfully all the random events connected, leading us to our bag.

**********************************************************

After the euphoria and the elation subdued a bit, I was left pondering a few questions.

I realized how negative we have all become regarding our fellow human. When the bag was lost, our first reaction was “Ab to Gaya’, meaning it won’t be found ever. We automatically assumed the items will be stripped of parts and sold. The continuous bombardment of negative news on television and newspapers have somehow succeeded in making our thought process negative. We have forgotten how to trust and believe the good in society as we are unable to see/find anything worthy. The boys by tracing us and returning the bag to us not only gave back our material things but also made us realize that good and honest people are still there in the world. The poor painters, earning paltry sums, having the moral fortitude to return items worth a lot of money showed us, educated folks, the power of honesty. Even the lady who called my friend did it due to the goodness of her heart. There was no incentive for her to spend her time looking through our contact list and calling up people other than receiving a Thank you from us. I saw happiness and satisfaction on their faces while handing over the bag to me, proving that a person with a clear conscience is the most satisfied.

Another thing which stood out was how much we Indians distrust our police force. We waited for three days before registering a police complaint as we didn’t want any “trouble”. Rather than going to the police station and registering the complaint immediately, delibrations were held whether we would get involved in unsavory dealings if we filed the FIR. Even after filing the complaint we did not have any hope for a positive outcome. The good samaritans on the other hand also did not go and deposit the bag with the police. Their reason was also the same, they didn’t want any “trouble” and being poor they would have been on the receiving end of the police’s suspicions. Even after we withdrew the complaint we were careful not to mention their names. My father-in-law, in fact, suggested that such honest citizens should be felicitated by the police/MLA, to which my response was “I don’t want trouble for them”. Isn’t it, however, a sad state of affairs that we, tax paying citizens of India, should distrust the force whose primary responsibility is to protect us. Rather than turning to police for help or succor, we mistrust their motives and actions.

This is the reason why I decided to title the post as “Lost”. This post is not about losing or finding material possessions. It is about how we have lost our ability to trust other people, we have lost our ability to believe that there are still honest people and we have lost our faith in our police system and public officers. As India completes 70 years as an Independent country maybe it is time we relook at certain things, only then there will be hope for this “Great” Nation.