Feminism

Feminism

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people , said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded defin...

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Staying Alive


What names shall I call you, my love?
By what sweet words should I pay you my homage,
you generous lord of my pleasures,
you who who put me ahead, always?

Have any new words been created,
beloved mine,
on which I can hang these feelings
and express in terms
less ordinary 
these emotions that well up
and flood my mind?

However much I try
what ever different routes
I may ply,
the journeys shared with you,
are worth the exhaustion
and the pain;
for the pleasure of you, by my side 
and only one destination:
in your arms, to die. 

The Respectable Indian Woman


Respect is a common enough word. We are told to respect our parents, teachers and elders. Children are taught to respect the law. Hopefully, even respect each other, and perhaps all sentient beings, and above all respect oneself.

 "Respectable", on the other hand is a different cup of tea. "Respectable"- a word every Indian woman grows up with, internalizes, and finally lives in the shade of, all her life. Because this is not an inherent respect afforded her for being a human, an entity capable of her own decisions, desires or even her own damnation, if she so wishes.

 It is a word that rules a woman's life. Sit this way, talk like this and dress only that way. Be seen here, don't go there. Never laugh out loud. Heck, women aren't even supposed to sneeze loudly; so what if she bursts a vein trying to stop the sneeze. Respectability has to be maintained at all costs.

Only "respectable" girls will fetch a good groom, you see. After all, that's the end result we're looking for. Marriage, which is the sole purpose of a woman's existence, and for a "good" marriage virginity is a pre requisite. The family's honour and "respect" is so vested in their women's vaginas because nothing less than a virgin will do for marriage. 

Fathers, brothers and even mothers are all designated protectors of a woman's virtue till she is married off, safely, as per family and societal norms. All hail endogamy !

God forbid a woman should go out with a guy, and horror of horrors, should they have premarital sex, what then? She's no longer "fit" for marriage and all honour, all "respect" is lost. Then the only saving grace is to kill her. That's the only option they have left, the men, the brothers, the patriarchs.

And this respect is supposed to keep you safe. If you're honourable no man will ogle you, you will not be harassed in the streets, family members will not abuse you and of course your husband will not beat you. After all, in Indian culture we "respect" our women. Or so the fable is told. Scratch the surface and you see that's patently untrue. The more patriarchal the society, the less the freedom women enjoy and the greater the violence they must bear. 

All the hullabaloo over "loose women" invading our "respectable" localities stems from this desperate drive to keep women's sexuality in check, get them married into approved homes, keep the sperms and genes within limited circulation. In so doing, patriarchy can ensure the property, its hallmark -its raison d'etre-  is passed on only to an identified, familiar seed.

The one thing patriarchy fears the most is a woman's sexuality. 
A woman who exercises control over her sexuality is to be reviled. 
The " loose woman" or the prostitute who exercises control over her body, even to an extent over her sexuality is patriarchy's worst enemy.  She must be driven from the "honourable" locaities for this very reason. 

The message to Indian women is loud and clear "stay honourable, stay safe". Stay within the bounds of patriarchy. 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

departure

She sat on the bench
in the waiting room,
he, next to her
holding hands.
Her peach coloured dress
 billowing up in the breeze from the fan

Scandalous looks darted their way
in the little out of the way town
far away from the bright lights of her city

She wanted to sit closer
in his lap
or with his head in hers.

She stared at him
till her heart would brim over
and pour out her eye
every once in a while.

Then she'd look away
this way or that
at others in the room
but rush back at his face.

Trying to chisel into her memory
 every detail of his presence
even as her heart filled with ache.

The bangs falling over her eye,
moved in the breeze of the fan,
he reached out,
running his fingers through them,
pushed back the wayward hair.

She looked at him,
mournful,
exultant, smile,
holding on to the image,
the memory
the touch
capturing in her heart
to cherish it
a lifetime.


Monday, 24 February 2014

Why I Am A Feminist


The memory is crystal clear, like watching a movie in a loop, in my head. I must have been nine, visiting my grandparents in a remote village in Uttar Pradesh. The distance couldn't be further from my other home in Shillong, not just a huge physical distance, but a leap almost into a different civilization, like a time zone removed.

 It was a foggy winter evening and the festival of the new crop was being celebrated. Plates and dishes were laid out on a freshly swabbed floor and the gorgeous smell of delicacies wafted in the crisp, cool night air.

Dinner was announced and as my cousins rushed in to take their seats on the mats on the floor I was stopped in my tracks by an aunt telling me that I'd have to wait my turn once the boys and men were done eating. She couldn't help but laugh out loud at my stupidity of assuming that I was one of the boys.

Having been brought up with my two brothers, without being made aware of any major differences between us, the shock of this discovery couldn't have been ruder. I wasn't yet ten, and you can gauge the humiliation to my little self from the fact that I recall it in such detail even today. Which brings me to this word.

fem·i·nism
ˈfeməˌnizəm/
noun
  1. 1.
    the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
    synonyms:the women's movement, the feminist movement, women's liberation, female emancipation, women's rights

Why was I not equal to the boys ? Why could I not eat with the men? Admittedly, the hurt was more to my ego than any real damage. Having been born into privilege and continuing to live a life pretty much cocooned from a real struggle for existence, I am acutely aware of how blessed I am, how small my problems are.

For instance, in general, my day to day interactions with men are limited, and what little I do interact with them is dictated by the overwhelming sense of my own privilege.

Yet, these advantages end the minute I step out of home, or my workplace, into the public domain. I am up for all kinds of harassment  and it is my outlook, how well prepared I am. The other place where all niceties are abandoned and it's pretty much a free-for-all, is the virtual world.

With all the muck that gets thrown around at people, specially vocal assertive women, on social media, I should be thankful I haven't had much of it come my way.  Then again, I am no celebrity so not much attention comes my way, good or bad.

Yet, of late, I have been harangued by feminism-bashers. I've been asked to enumerate what contributions, if any, feminists have made. I've also been told that the very fact of their existence is irrelevant. All of this has prompted me to write this.

The critics of feminists are many. I think it should be heartening for us feminists that the very fact that we are being discussed so much means that we are perceived as a threat of some form.

Being criticised by the old order is nothing new, we've learnt to take it in our stride. What bothers and rankles a bit is the attack from seemingly liberal people, upholders of progressive values. Yet, as soon as we come to the part about feminism, their minds seem to shut down, close.

No doubt that feminism and its proponents come across as "loud", "crass", "aggressive", "bitchy"- all traits for which women have been condemned all through time. So we are basically being told that all feminists should be quiet,  well behaved girls. We should toe the line, follow the rules, in general, be "good girls". Well, like someone said, good girls never made history.  

Another criticism is the tag of "man-hater" attached to feminists, probably with the hope that by repeating a lie often enough, it can be made to stick.

Let me enlighten you, dear feminism-haters. Patriarchy is the system that heterosexual men put in place over the centuries, solely to be able to ensure their property was passed on to their own children. It should be a self-evident truth that while a woman is certain the child she is carrying is her's- it's inside her body a full nine months, after all- while a man may only speculate or arrive at an educated guess at best. He can never be certain.

Feminism seeks to achieve for women equal rights as men, equal work for equal pay, ensure men's equal share in housework and in general the right to basic human dignity. The right to be seen as human, as an equal to man.

The recent law against rape, which has redefined rape is suddenly "draconian" and even before a year is over since it came into force, filing of "false rape" cases has substantially gone up, we are told. Well, there is a commotion in the ranks of men- and well founded, it is. For a start, read up on some basics about the law.

For, if holding opinions which "differentiate me from a doormat" is going to bother you, I'm sorry, but the status quo is changing, the slow shift has begun taking shape. Girls, once they get to school, are already outdoing boys.

Granted that there are a few areas that women are yet to catch up in. For example, in democratic participation.
Women don't get enrolled in voters' lists, not even proportionate to the declining sex ratio as per recent  census data. But we are a little less than half of the population, and our time is about to come. As more women are getting educated, there is likely to be an increase in their participation in exercising their franchise.This can only mean that women's voices will get more of the politicians' ear than we've seen until now.

I leave you with this  lovely video in which Joss Whedon gives a delightful explanation why we cannot discard the word "feminist", not just yet.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

HIGHWAY, A MOVIE FOR OUR TIMES

Back from watching the much-maligned "Highway" which I liked a lot, and having gone through most reviews which ranged from tepid to hostile, I decided to write this piece. Hopefully the handful (or less) of you who will read this, will at least consider watching it instead of an outright dismissal. 

Finally, we have a Hindi movie in which the central character is that of a woman and the focus of the entire movie is her growth and evolution as a person. Hats off to Imtiaz Ali for pulling off a stunning piece and extracting out of of Alia Bhatt, a performance which is probably going to remain one of her finest.

I'm not very sure if Imtiaz Ali set out to make a feminist movie, but this coming-of-age drama, wrapped around a road trip is just that : a rare Hindi movie that displays in full measure a true growing-up of Hindi cinema. (Since I'm not familiar with multi hued regional language cinema of our nation, I refrain from using the term "Indian cinema" for obvious reasons.)

Empathy is a quality fast receding from our collective conscience, as a society and this is but a reflection of the values held by its members at large. This movie yet again proves my point, you don't have to be a woman to be a feminist; having heartfelt empathy for fellow humans is enough.

Veera (Alia's character) is really every middle/ upper class Indian girl. She comes from a rich family. She is kidnapped, and forced on a road trip. 

The point to be noted is that she herself is not rich, rather it's her family which is rich. She seems to have no control over what goes on around her, which is not atypical of such situations. 

Her kidnapper, (a character played with great aplomb by Randeep Hooda ) takes her on a journey which parallels the one of self-discovery and assertion of her own identity. 

The circumscribed existence of Veera, constantly being kept in check by her family, is suffocating her, and she is reluctant to return to it even after having been set free. 

At one point her character says, she knows she neither wants to go back to the proscribed world of her parents, nor does she particularly want to "settle down" with her former kidnapper. 

Also, dealt with great sensitivity is the growing relationship between her and her former kidnapper, a kind of love story, given a very different treatment from the run-of-mil Bollywood fare.

The assertion of her character, that she wants to be her own person, rings true, and that, I think, is the biggest strength of the movie.The little touch at the very end where she's depicted holding a copy of "Women Who Run With The Wolves" has it's own tale to tell. Perhaps it was too easy a prop to fall back upon, but truth be told, it warmed the cockles of my heart to see it up there. 

For the serene, soulful music of A.R.Rahman, for the glorious shots of the prettiest parts of our country, for still, silent characters with pared down dialogues and faces which speak loudly but in silence, go watch "HIGHWAY". It's a different kind of ride ! 






Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Entrails and Innards


The entrails of life. 
The innards of me
 kept behind the closed door of skin. 
Bolted under the bones. 
Watered by blood.


What storms run amock
within these walls thin,
what tides wash up on the shores
what they carry away:
That which is left behind,
can you gauge from its imprint?


Do the grains stuck in me,
which for the life of me

I cannot dislodge
do they show up through the pores?

Would you care to know?
don't tell me
you know everything.






Melody

Like a plucked string 
the sounds of you resonate 
in me, in my soul
I am the melody
left behind by you
the echo of your heartbeat
beats in time 
with my breath.

The meloncholic tone 
which I pick up 
and redeem,
impart it life anew.
Twirl it, 
tease a song out of it
and turn it to joy.
Allow me  to turn this imprint
 you left behind
and fling it back 
into the sky
Maybe you will catch it again
some day.
And I will survive.


Chewable

A gnawing emptines,
a fully formed hole,
open wide,
like my dreamless eyes.
A vast crater
with a bottomless pit.
Every pore of me
seeks you
like a pacifier
in a baby's mouth,
would shut this wound,
dull the pain.
Name the drug
so I may
numb the ache.
Say my name.