Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Phoenix Must Rise

As a brave young girl succumbs and her spirited soul loses the battle, the most overwhelming emotion to grip me is profound anguish, unfathomable outrage and a terrible shame – for the very values we take pride in, for the hypocrisy of our people and for a society plagued by prejudice.
It’s all well to play the blame game, pass the buck from the police to the government. There is indeed little doubt that effective security measures need to be implemented all over the country to prevent crimes against women, and that as demanded by the protestors, rapists must be meted out with the harshest punishment to deter others from committing such a heinous act. But would that resolve the core issue? Does the role of the protestors and media end there? Should we be satisfied by these measures, content that we have avenged “Braveheart's” brutal assault?
The bestiality of the crime has shaken the conscience of the nation, and every Indian without exception is unanimous in condemning the incident. But how many really want to delve into the deeper, more sensitive issue of gender discrimination and are willing to admit that they too are guilty of the gender bias that is so deep rooted in our collective sub-conscious?
What can gender bias have to do with rape? It all begins with belittling the dignity of the woman right from the time of her conception. It all begins with glorifying the man just because he happens to be male. It all begins with elders bestowing their ardent wishes on a newly wedded couple that they be blessed with a son to carry ahead the family name. It all begins with families praying for the birth of a boy as soon as the “good news” is confirmed. It all begins with the flawed assumption that no family can be complete without a male child.
Why are people acting so self righteous while condemning the crime, when we as a collective entity are responsible for fueling the utter disrespect that our society shows towards the feminine gender?  How can we expect any change till our women continue to lack self belief, until they continue to resign themselves to play a subservient role, until they too pray fervently to be mothers of sons?
Our country needs a revolution of sorts to get rid of outdated norms and rusty ideas that have no place in a civilised, progressive society. If we really want to ensure greater security for women we need to restore their rightful position as equal, respectable and dignified citizens. This can only happen when we rid ourselves of this age old bias that favours the male and unquestioningly believes in his superiority. The revolution must begin within families - with parents instilling in their sons an intrinsic respect for women instead of giving in to stereotypes that condition boys into thinking that they are naturally superior to girls, stronger than them in every way. It is this erroneous belief that later transforms into either a patronising attitude towards womankind or the desire to dominate and overpower them. In its crudest form it turns into a violent, bestial urge, a means to quell their lust by violating their dignity in the worst possible manner.
Yes security measures need to be in place, more police vigilance and camera surveillance would indeed help bring down crimes against women. But what about the filthy attitudes and the uncouth minds from which acts of such unimaginable brutality are born? What measures are we taking to change those? What are we doing to change the way men think of women, to combat the attitudes that conveniently find fault with her attire or her character, or the assumption that it’s the woman to blame for venturing out after dark?
Bringing the rapists to justice is just the first step to avenging Braveheart’s untimely end. But may she continue to live in our hearts as the spark that spurs our conscience, as a hope that refuses to die. We owe her a social revolution – a promise that will give birth to a new generation of women who can live with their head held high - safe, proud and free. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

As Life Chugs Along

Image courtesy:
It’s my favourite part of the day - my “me” time when all I do is watch the world go by. There’s nothing quite like sitting by the window, in that bliss of solitude, feeling the wind on my face and letting my mind wander into its deepest recesses as the train meanders its way on the tracks. While my eyes behold the usual sights and notice the stations flash past, my mind travels back and forth, exploring through a maze of thoughts, recollecting events of the times past – both recent and distant, observing the myriad hues of daily life – humdrum yet fascinating, predictable yet surprising. This paradox never ceases to amaze me; maybe this is why I find myself looking forward to this daily ritual which fuels my thoughts, gives me glimpses of life at its most real and most of all, which lets me be me.

Among the first observations about my fellow commuters to have struck me was the fact that no sooner did young girls (as I travel in the ladies compartment) board the train than they put on earphones, plugged the wire into their mobiles and spent the entire commute listening to music. At first, I thought it would be a great way to pass the time and decided to try it out too. But then I realised that it interfered with the free flow of thoughts that I so enjoyed and diverted me from the wealth of experiences that I had got so accustomed to absorbing and hence abandoned the idea. It's probably a consequence of our hectic, modern lifestyles that young people have gotten so used to keeping occupied all the time that they cannot imagine sitting idle with only themselves for company.

I seldom get to see the same faces again on a different day but the only people who remain constant are the ladies pacing the aisle displaying their wares, attracting attention to it by announcing in long, loud tones, always as enthusiastic and hopeful, day after day. I never fail to admire their spirit, the enduring hope and optimism that reflect in their energetic voices, with neither any trace of disappointment at being turned down nor impatience at being pushed aside as the train begins to get crowded. Some of them carry their little babies in sari bundles tied across their torso, moving as sprightly as ever, their mood cheerful and body language positive, never giving away signs of any weariness that may be the natural outcome of their tough existence. Is it the predictability of their routine that gives them the strength to take life with such equanimity? Or is it because, they are oblivious of any other way of living? Can we learn a lesson from their stoicism or should they let a bit of discontent seep into their minds that will make them want more from life for themselves, for their children? The answer continues to elude me.

There are a few more “regular” commuters that I see every other day. They get on and off at fixed stations – a fact that would seem normal and ordinary for most – except that these women seem mentally unstable. Some of them mumble to themselves, others carry on an animated conversation with an imaginary companion, often recounting painful stories of betrayal, abandonment, bereavement and profound sorrow. This is by far the most moving of experiences from my daily commute and something that has shaken my very soul.

Then of course there is the lighter side too – young students cracking jokes that make you want to laugh loudly too. Women gossiping away, making the most of this opportunity, the security of being anonymous in a crowd of strangers, allowing them to give vent to their frustrations openly about a few of their favourite adversaries - their bosses, their husbands and their mothers in law. You cannot but also help overhear snippets of conversations about someone’s deepest secrets, their worst fears and the bitterest of truths. This has a strangely comforting effect as it connects me inextricably with those women who are complete strangers, yet share the common bond of being fellow travellers in the journey of life. It makes me realise that no one escapes the vagaries of life, that we all have our moments of despair and our moments in the sun to deal with in the way we choose to.

It’s indeed an eventful uneventful journey, – one that saddens, amuses, uplifts, teaches, inspires and comforts, - a mirror of the paradox that is life. But most of all, it is a time of silent contemplation, of peaceful introspection, of order amidst chaos, a time to charge my batteries to face the day with equanimity, as I revel in this chance to be me.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Right to Choose

The battle of the sexes continues unabated. Never has the need to prove herself been more acute for the urban woman than it is today. Driven by the fire to succeed, she has broken all stereotypes to emerge victorious in even the hitherto typically male bastions. While these stupendous achievements are playing a necessarily substantial role in the general uplifting of the position of women, it has led to a new kind of stereotypical thinking.
“Are you working?” This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions by women to women when they meet for the first time. On the face of it, it seems a most innocent question – pleasant small talk, perfect to break the ice. But the answer to that question often holds the key to how she will be assessed and summed up. If the reply happens to be ‘yes’, well then she would come across as smart, modern, capable – the ideal liberated woman. And heaven help her, if the answer is ‘no’ then the reaction is ‘oh okay’, but the eyes give away that she has been graded a few notches lower. Is this kind of a reaction befitting of a liberated mind?
While it is of utmost importance that every individual, irrespective of gender, has the capacity to be financially independent, and every woman has the freedom to pursue her dreams and ambitions, it is just as important for her to have the freedom to choose that she doesn’t want to work without being regressively labelled ‘housewife’. If a well qualified woman wishes to put career plans on hold and play full time mom to her kids for a few years, so be it. It neither means that she is ‘wasting’ her education (if that can ever be possible!!), nor that she has all of a sudden turned into a docile, homely creature, devoid of ambition.
It is precisely this kind of thinking that is posing as a hurdle to the empowerment and emancipation of women in the true sense of the word. It has created a mindset wherein women have been classified as ‘working’ and ‘non working’ with the latter somehow being perceived as weaker, completely ignoring and undermining all the other valuable roles she plays. Does that mean that the respect accorded to a woman and her intelligence depends on whether or not she is working? Is that the sole yardstick to measure her acumen, her capabilities and the major criterion to grant her a place among the lot of “liberated” women? Is having a job a pre requisite to be considered empowered? In her quest for emancipation, by abiding to these now conventional parameters of judging, a woman is actually undermining her own kind. At the height of her accomplishments, she must remain humble enough to never underestimate another woman who may have chosen a different path for herself; a path that may not have brought her material success, yet given her an immense sense of fulfilment. That would be real freedom – the prerogative to know her own mind, make her own decisions and choose her own path.
The reverse is true too. Motherhood is a natural progression in a woman's life and certainly should not put a full stop on her career aspirations. These decisions are very subjective and personal and should remain so. Should she choose to resume her career after becoming a mother, it certainly does not mean that she is going to neglect her commitments to her family and that her children will necessarily "stray".

The truly empowered woman is well educated, self respecting, self confident, proud of her womanhood, and pivotal to the well being of her family. She is well aware that through her springs the happiness and the shaping of the moral character of her children. She is, in every which way, her husband’s strength, and together they can complement each other to form such a harmonious whole that there need never be any battle of the sexes. What is of paramount importance for the welfare of any society is that the woman is content and lives a dignified life – irrespective of whether she decides to pursue a career or chooses to stay at home. It is only when the woman can learn to respect herself for what she is and free herself from all kinds of dogmas and meaningless prejudices that she would be well on the path of real equality.
Therein lies her liberation and her empowerment.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

New Year Resolutions – A Trip Down Memory Lane

New Year Resolutions are made only to be broken – so suggests
my experience of more than three and a half decades. Yet every 31st,
most of us end up making one. It is perhaps the sheer exuberance of the
atmosphere and the spirit of the fresh New Year standing at our doorstep, which
infuses optimism into our already lightheaded (dare I say tipsy?) minds that we
decide to give ourselves one more chance towards self enhancement.
Before I take the “plunge” for the coming year, let me embark
on a journey back in time and reminisce some of my previous New Year
Resolutions and how long it was until they were abandoned.

The earliest resolution made by yours truly was as a determined ten year old sporting long waist length hair. My mother would lovingly oil and braid my hair in two plaits. I detested the oil but nothing would convince her otherwise. So I decided to take matters literally in my own hands by triumphantly announcing to mommy dear, one chilly New Year’s Eve that henceforth I would braid my own hair. She readily agreed, casting a very condescending look at me. My valiant, determined efforts continued for two whole days before the daily morning struggle cost me a missed school bus and a host of subsequent problems. Finally better (or worse) sense prevailed and mommy dear smiled knowingly as I reverted to my well oiled plaits!

My next resolution was as a just turned thirteen dreamy teenager. My parents had gifted me the book, ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ for my birthday. So swept off my feet was I by her, that I wanted to emulate her and thus sprang the resolution to maintain a diary. My crazy adolescent brains fantasised how one day my diary would win the Booker and make me famous. “Dream big! Nothing’s impossible – that’s what all great visionaries vouch for”, my dreamy mind told my even dreamier heart as I religiously poured out each day’s happenings and thoughts for as long as I could. As is inevitable, the dreaminess faded and gave way to practical reality and other worldly tensions (read studies) took much of my time and energies. Gradually the frequency of my diary writing diminished, much like all the exaggerated fantasies of ever bagging the Booker receded into the realm of impossibility.

There came many more after that, generated by an ever idealistic and optimistic mind – will never use plastic bags, will eat only healthy food and will keep mind and body fit by regular exercise and even meditation!! While the optimism continues, the resolutions have, sooner or later, met with the same fate as their predecessors.

Coming to the present, I certainly owe it to the spirit of the New Year and all that it symbolises, to make a fresh resolution. But this time it is on a different note. I am going to live each moment to the fullest, absorb as much positivity from each of my five senses and take the time to “stand and stare” at all the wonders that we have simply forgotten about in the daily grind and stress of everyday living. And last but the most important – I am going to pamper myself happily doing all the things I am fond of. And knowing full well the powerful cravings of my sweet tooth, I know this one is going to be for keeps!