Shunning the FAB INDIA


Description: salt and pepper hair, khadi clothing and a lost demeanour.

If you do not understand what they are saying then it is probably your fault. They are generally found at upmarket places in and Delhi like IIC, IHC and JNU auditoriums and other spurious places in and around Delhi where elitism is reared and cultivated like a milking cow. Where “writings” are renditions and “sexuality” is body politics. Where endless cups of chai are consumed to understand why the author crossed his Ts but did not dot his Is; why the movie maker would not shoot in a particular light (or why he would) and why the women would rather sit at home when they could be partying out really late.

Culture
Music
Feminism
Communism
Ideology

Everything is devoured, consumed and then re-written in academic papers to be read and re-read in academic papers only they understand to produce theories about a society only they live in. A mono-society, like a mono-culture laboratory sample which makes understanding it such a perfectly straight-line job. Objective theories which explain why things happen but never why they are so cruel. Objective theories which are in competition with the scalpel holding population. Let’s see who can be more removed from the blood and the gore?

Men and women in salt and pepper hair, with intricate silver jewellery and crisp and shiny Fab India attire discuss the world they live in comfortably removed from its stark bareness. Aloof from its details and cold from its touch.

Please note: A discussion on the “Female infanticide in India” will be followed by high tea in the auditorium halls.
Do join us to add a little perspective.

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Of my flesh and blood


She removed her bangles one by one and let them fall on the floor. They made a small sound as they smashed on the ground; nothing that changed the feel of that night. Next, she removed her saree, pleat by pleat and let the garment flow around her. With one deft, athletic stroke the bindi was gone. For a second she was taken aback by the starkness of her face in the mirror. She stared at her bare self before stepping out of the small enclosure the saree had made around her, almost as if she wanted her body, more than her mind, to be sure of what it was doing. When she was done, she adorned the white which was now going to be her destiny. It was a hot May summer of 1957. She quietly sat beside her husband and started fanning.

The body had to be preserved till her son came back.

As she fanned, she waited for her son to appear amongst the steady stream of visitors that were coming home to pay homage to her husband. She was anxious but anxiety could wait, there was work to be done. Relatives were eager to cremate the husband. “Should we wait for the son and let the body rot?” was the refrain.

Four days ago, her son had left for Ahmednagar to meet some relatives as it had been long since they had heard of them. Telephones were impersonal so they preferred visiting. She remembered the father loading his belongings in a tonga and setting him off to the station. Four days ago. Today he lies lifeless on the floor and the son who has to redeem him is nowhere in sight.

Thinking of making the most of the time, he had gone off to Bombay from Ahmednagar. It was going to be a short trip, just a day or two, so he hadn’t bothered to inform.

She guarded the body fiercely but her all hopes went away with the sun. As she looked around, everyone, along with the flies around the body and the melting slab of ice under it, seemed to be asking her, “Would she agree to a relative cremating her husband instead?”

Would she?

“No man in this family is going to tell my son, that it was he who lit the torch to his father’s redemption. No one, absolutely no one,” she announced.

With that, she asked everyone to arrange for the cremation and went inside to fetch her sleeping grandson. Five years old, he was the one who will have to take his father’s place today. She bathed and got him ready. When the people chanted “Ram naam satya hai…satya bolo satya hai” as they lifted her husband for his last journey, she was right in front with her grandson.

She took the torch from the Brahmin and gave it to her grandson. As the flames engulfed her husband, she shed her first tear.

And “me?”, asks the woman


Whenever I hear some one compare men and women, all I hear is “yada, yada, yada..rant rant rant”. How can you compare men and women, do you ever compare apples and motorcycles? And why would a woman want to be like a man? What is with the equality thing?

I will agree that over the years I have grown up hating a man’s guts. I envied how men could do just do anything and be almost as least emotionally involved as ever. At least that’s what I felt. They could wiff away their mom’s concern or any concern for that matter in seconds. Simple emotional problems that we girls blow our brains on did not go anywhere near them.  No wonder I always liked guy friends over girls, there was never the emotional stuff there, it was clean and un-adulterated fun without any hang-ups. Initially, I never found girls fun and never bonded with them, always deflecting the inadequate-ness I felt at being one (and thus, feeling I was a bit complicated) to all of them, finally befriending only a select few and keeping just at the right distance away.

It was only when I started living in a girl’s hostel in my college did I realise that girls are fun too. Not just fun, they needn’t be complicated at all and they were different people who gave you warm comfort when they were around you. Obviously, some of my college friends are the people I’d say best know me. There is stuff that I have done and even before I had realised that I have committed a blunder, they had told me that I am going to regret it later. I am completely at ease with all of them and we have loads of fun, sometimes more than my guy friends, for whom, I have become one of all complicated womankind they generally don’t “get”.

It has been 5 years since I graduated from college and since then I have met a variety of men and women. Because I stopped taking women as complicated beings way back in college, I have befriended both men and women and have refrained from comparing them. All of them really have been an ensemble in my life and it has worked that way quite well. In all these years one thing that has hit home perfectly to me is that men and women are really two different beings. No one is better or worse, but they are just different. We are no one to judge their style of functioning and doing certain things as good or bad. It is just a way, and they do it because of different reasons.

As I study sociology, I understand the immense importance of society in a person’s life and the enormous impact it has on him (and him is as gender neutral as it can be). Men and women are socialised differently and thus end up being so different. Earlier, some of these ways of socialisation became so ingrained in us that they became a part of our culture and affected the evolution process. For example, the need for women to be sexually desirable has translated somewhere to the need to be smooth, hence the (comparative) lack of facial hair and body hair in women. There are numerous examples such as these, but it is not the examples that count…what counts is that these external agencies, such as the forces of societies have had a huge role in making men and women who they are today. There were different roles that men and women needed to fulfill in the society and both fulfilled them. Fulfilling those roles, they developed their primary and secondary characters and now present themselves as that. This is why, I don’t get the need for comparison. The need for the good and the bad. Everyone does their work and is happy. End of story.

This is the reason why I have never been a fan of women’s studies and I laugh when some one says that “aaj ki naari, mard ke saath har kadam par kandhe se kandha mila kar chal rahi hai.” I never understood the reason for a woman’s need for validation by a man. This comparison and this quest for recognition went beyond me.

However, few incidents, including the following have made me think and question this attitude further. Sometime back, heard a friend say, right after his marriage (when we were discussing if is wife should study MBA or continue with her job) that society is going haywire because too many women are getting educated and that now they don’t feel the need to look after their families. Also, that women who are very educated do not remain under the control of their men and upset everything. I was completely shocked (primary reaction, when you really don’t realise the need to get into the depth of any argument) and thought that the man was an idiot and was a part of the other extreme where all women think that men are responsible for everything wrong in their lives.

But when I really went back to what he was saying, I realised that on the face of it, he was right. Women were getting educated and they were experiencing a whole new independence never known to their tribe before. It was bound to upset the framework of society which was made on a specific role distribution which made women look after the home and men earn the wages. The power was all with the man and the woman was contend looking after the home and children (let’s not get into how the Industrial Revolution brought this change in English society and then the nationalist movement trickled it to India, what ever the reason, how the present society is structured). A working, educated woman who had the financial power obviously upset this arrangement resulting in chaos. He was right. I was wrong.

For those who did not leave reading this blog at the last line, this is my further line of argument. I admit that before the society was beautifully structured and impeccably functional. Women in the house and men outside was a great arrangement and we all benefited from it. However, this is a great and beneficial arrangement only if there is no difference between a person working in the house and outside it. When the respect accorded to both is the same. Patriarchal societies are all good until the male only ‘makes’ the decision but the decision-making processes includes the female of the house. Till today men of the family make all of a woman’s decisions. Even telling her whom to marry and what career to choose. For example, I remember being advised to become a teacher, why? because “it is the safest career for women”. Define safe I asked, and they said, “you will be able to manage your home and job easily and there won’t be too much pressure.” Prudent advice, but did it take my views into consideration? or my choices or even my intellect? No. Did these things mattered to them? Again, No.

You start asserting your identity when you feel there is a threat to it. When you realise that unless you do something, your existence will very soon put to question. A lot of women went through this identity crisis until they revolted. Until they asked to be made a part of the labour force because they wanted to be financially independent in a world where their future was uncertain. They realised that the only way they will be known as any entity is when they work outside the home (because at home, a full-time job is unpaid for and un-respected). This was and is the quest for recognition of a woman. And she has the right to demand it because very rightly she works very hard for it. It’s not validation, its demand for much more, a realization that your existence matters to people who matter to you.

With recognition, I bring in the issue of respect because it is time a woman is respected as a person and not dismissed because she is a woman. Not generalised because some idiotic film-maker thinks that it must be a woman who is all wrong in a relationship (without any input from the man) and thus decides to make a “Pyar ka Punchnama”. And not victimised by many others who, when they couldn’t get a “yes” for their proposal from a girl, decided it was time she be known as a slut in the entire college. Who understood that character assassination is to be done at will and will be done to prove a point. Case in point, a Mika Singh who thought that just because Rakhi Sawant is wearing a backless dress and is present in his party, she is fully open to his sexual assault and not just not open, she “asked for it too” (more on this stuff in the slut walk post)

I also bring in the issue of respect because many fail to understand and will never understand the kind of pressures that a woman faces in her day-to-day life. Imagine thinking about how to talk, behave, dress, and 100 other things in your everyday life because of how it might be taken by people outside and hence, how it might affect your family and its reputation. Even the way she laughs or talks to other people is to be thought about. Women go through a lot in their daily lives to live “as women” and they do deserve their fair amount of dignity and consideration. Recognise her labour. Her being. Recognise that the woman who works at home works too and that she deserves to be taken as a productive member of the house, of the family and the society. She deserves to be heard. It is not about who does what, but where one is put because of the kind of work he/she does that matters.And affects. Mind that.

So the next time you see a working woman who works even when her husband earns well, don’t stop and wonder – she works because you denied her her existence and she is fighting for that. And don’t pity a housewife because she just sits at home and has “nothing” to do. She probably gave up a lucrative career to look after the house – talk to me when you gather enough guts to make that sacrifice.