Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tolerating Intolerance

Amidst the whirlpool of news over the past few days, two outspoken women stood out. One in life, and the other, in death. Kangana Ranaut & Gauri Lankesh.

A disclaimer might be prudent here – I am not affiliated to either of them. Being a fairly regular article-forager on Facebook, I did happen to read a few articles by Ms Lankesh & thought that they were concise and well-researched. I would see Ms Ranaut disinterestedly in magazines & in movie trailers, but it was the wide-eyed Rani that got me to watch her subsequent films. I think that she’s a fantastic actress.

Comparing these two women would do them absolute injustice and would cause me to lose my own dignity, even as an amateur writer. This article therefore, isn’t designed for comparison, but for thought.

Ms Lankesh was shot brutally outside her house a little more than 24 hours ago by unknown assailants. Many believe that Ms Lankesh, described as ‘ courageous’, ‘honest’ & ‘truthful’, was assassinated for openly criticizing the government & its policies. All this reminds me of a dialogue in the acclaimed movie ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ in which one of the protagonists audaciously asks authorities during an anti-jean rally at college “..aap humari azaadi se itna darte kyun hai?”. Why, indeed? Why are we not allowed to question the very people we elect?

The three bullets may have silenced Ms Lankesh’s auricular voice, but her thoughts echo in the form of various protests throughout the country.

Ms Ranaut has always been in the eye of the controversy storm, be it about her relationships, her rumoured catfights or her stance on nepotism. A recent appearance on Aap Ki Adaalat (or maybe Rajeev Masand’s show) created further furore as Ms Ranaut gutsily attacked the Roshans to thunderous applause. Now, to be fair, nobody really knows what the whole Hrithik-Kangana spat is about, but everybody is quite interested in it, and who better to clear the air than Kangana herself?  Even if one were to assume that Ms Ranaut has been spinning a yarn for her benefit, one cant help but appreciate her gumption. Not only is she candidly addressing this issue, but she is also opening herself up for censure & maybe a strategic attack from the opposing party.

Expressing an opinion is as important as having an opinion, and behind every form of expression lies a bit of nerve. It takes courage for one to go against the tide and rise up against persons in position of power, especially when one is a self-made person. Whether one deems Ms Ranaut’s opinion to be right or wrong, she will always be known as the woman who didn’t hesitate to tell people exactly what she felt about them, on camera or off it.

There is one crucial word that binds both these women’s cases – intolerance. For Ms Lankesh, intolerance towards her anti-government, anti-Hindutva writings & Ms Ranaut for her candour. One would have thought that years of seemingly co-existing with people from various communities & regions would have taught us some tolerance, but clearly, that isn’t the case. It is natural to have a difference of opinion and discuss such differences, but it is improper to stifle someone’s opinion just because it differs from yours.  It is easier to shoot or defame somebody, but extremely difficult to be tolerant towards somebody’s opinions & their ideal of truth. I know we all like to take the easy way out, but maybe it’s time for us to seriously consider the difficult way?

Friday, July 7, 2017

What's in a Language?

Namma Metro's official logo
There is a dialogue in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1975 masterpiece ‘Chupke Chupke’ where the cosmopolitan professor Parimal masquerading as the puritan Hindi-speaking driver Pyaremohan (played effortlessly by Dharmendra) tells Haripad bhaiya (played by the lovable David) that he feels bad that he is poking fun of a language, and that too his mother tongue (in this case, Hindi). Haripad bhaiya replies with a masterstroke of a line “ Bhasha apneaap me itni mahaan hoti hai ke uske mazaak kia hi nahi jaa sakta (a language by itself is so great that it cannot be made fun of)”

One would think that 40 years later, language wouldn’t be a problem in India, and everybody would learn to accept and respect the other’s language, but sadly, that isn’t the case. While on the one side we have reached Mars and boast of having one of the world’s fastest growing economy, but on the other we have constant infighting on issues like food & language. Beef is food for some people, and Kannada is the mother tongue of a million people, whereas India is home to a billion.

Bangalore as a city can be best described as an overgrown village, even without the traffic woes & frothy lakes. Pavements disintegrate into their constituent blocks midway on main roads, roads are plagued with potholes, traffic lights & zebra crossings go missing at intersections and tall apartment blocks clumsily spring up in the middle of modest independent houses. The one thing going for us in this city other than its trees, is the Metro, as it cuts on both money & time spent yawning while being stuck in traffic. Travelling from Malleswaram to Jayanagar had reduced to a mere 15 minutes, as compared to the 40-minute gruelling car ride. Three days into the inauguration of the Green line (which took six years to come into fruition), the metro was filled with more office-goers than joyriders, and Namma Metro was piled with accolades. But over the past few days, the issue that seems to be plaguing some commuters is not the surprising absence of escalators towards the platform at certain stations, but the multilingual signboards. There have been news reports on people blacking out Hindi/ non-Kannada signs on not only metro boards, but display boards of shops as well . There was also a video of people from the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike organisation questioning the manager of a retail store regarding the choice of the music playing in the shop. Apparently they had heard nobody speak in Kannada & no Kannada film songs playing.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t understand what the issue is. I never understood it when it happened in Mumbai, and I don’t understand it now. Apparently these people think that by not promoting Kannada, the language will go extinct. A basic Google search reveals that the population of the entire state of Karnataka is about 64 million and the population of Bangalore is 1/8th of that. The population of Kannada-speaking families outside the county is not known. Even if one makes the insane assumption that nobody speaks Kannada in Bangalore, there is no way that the language will go extinct. I also don’t understand how putting Hindi signages along with Kannada is the ‘imposition’ of the former language. In fact I refuse to understand how this, with its numerous hashtags, is a matter that requires discussion, especially when we have other topics to discuss about. Like how Delhi Metro managed to map nearly the entire city, ploughing through NCR within 8 years whereas Bangalore Metro took 7 years to merely connect the north to south and east to west, all the while leaving the airport & the main IT hubs disconnected. Or like how it takes an excruciating 45 minutes to travel 7 kms. Or like how it is a pain to walk on the roads in the city, unless one stays around Cubbon Park or Lalbagh. Or like how garbage lies at every corner of every lane in the city. Language and food are a part of our culture, and should be cherished & respected, but never enforced or imposed. It would do us all good to change our perceptions and focus on the issues that really matter instead of fighting over our languages and banning our food.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

What God Means To Me

The presence of God has been constant in my life, but my perspective of Him has changed, and still continues to. I believe that this change is as natural & as necessary as the change of seasons. Our perception of God changes with age, knowledge & yes, a bit of firsthand experience, for, as Paramahansa Yogananda says in The Autobiography of a Yogi, “ No man lives who has not seen some of his prayers granted”

For a South Indian family, we were strangely disconnected with the ritual of going to a temple – a temple was visited only if there happened to be a birthday, an anniversary, a promotion or a good report card. But this doesn’t mean that we weren’t God-loving. A small shrine with the family goddess occupied an important space in the kitchen.  Mother would recite hymns while doing her regular chores and Father would silently bow in front of the shrine every day. I was sent to school with a smidge of vibhuti (holy ash) on my throat during weekdays and dutifully dropped at Bal Vihar & music classes on the weekends.

But upbringing is the foundation; it rests on the shoulders of each and every human being to build their personal equation with God. Growing up, I was exposed to the triumvirate of hobbies – reading, singing & watching movies. Unconsciously and rather unusually, these hobbies interlinked and honed my perception of God through the ages.  Stories written by saints like Sri Ramakrishna & Swami Vivekananda spread the message of supreme dedication to God through love for all His creation , songs by Saint Tyagaraja & Annamacharya, filled sometimes with pathos, sometimes with ecstasy, were an example in devotion  & movies such as Oh My God reinstated the fact that rituals weren’t necessarily synonymous with love for God.

Today my feelings of God are a perfect amalgam of my upbringing & hobbies. The day begins by touching the ground in respect of the Mother Earth, who bears all of us despite our drilling and digging. The wondrous sight of sun rays passing through trees during my morning walk serves as a reminder of God’s creation. Devotional music takes me into throes of inexplicable joy & I often find myself strangely energised after a session of music. My ten minutes of peace are often in front of the small shrine in the kitchen. Each morsel of food is eaten after thanking the Almighty, and sleep is beckoned after a recitation of God’s name.

However, it would be churlish of me to claim to have fully known or understood God. There are days when, despite the innate knowledge that God is nothing but filled with love, I feel that He is being exceptionally trying with me. But then, in unexpected moments of clarity, I rewind to the tough times in the past and remember that it was always He who helped me through them & stood by me, in the form of a parent, a friend or a well-wisher. He is, after all, without beginning or end, with form or formless, the creator, protector and destroyer of this vast universe that He has created. I am but a mere speck in this universe, a mere puppet , whose main aim of this life is to become one with Him, the eternal puppeteer.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Women’s Day Resolutions

Eyes – our personal camera and the window to our heart & mind. We use our eyes to see the beauty outside – lush green trees, shimmering blue seas, a gorgeous yellow sun- but rarely use them to see within ourselves. This Woman’s Day, continuing my personal tradition of ‘doing something new’, I decided to introspect & pen down a few resolutions of my own, and thought that others might relate to it (probably?). Anyway, here goes:

I shall not judge other women
Yes, this is one of trickier ones. We aren’t flawless, and hence, judging comes naturally to us. One glance at another woman, and our brain begins its instant judgment:
“ That’s a lovely dupatta. I bet it must be expensive”
“ What a tight dress she’s wearing- she looks odd!”
“She’s gained weight – it doesnt suit her at all”
Let’s use our ability to jump to conclusions for a better purpose, shall we?

I shall wear whatever I find comfortable and not care two hoots about fashion
I personally love kurtas – nice, crisp, cotton kurtas. I have always loved them, irrespective of my age or profession, and I think they suit me best. I also like to accesorie them with chunky jewellery. If anybody should have a problem with this, it should be me and me alone.
(And fyi, you’re going to get nowhere by following my fashion choice :-p)

I shall educate myself & attempt to educate others
The only way we have a chance to evolve as a human being is by educating myself by reading more interesting, good, quality books, watching more informational documentaries & quality films. Knowledge helps us distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong, and issues worth fighting for versus issues worth ignoring. In our constant fight for feminism, we tend to forget that education is the best way to combat inequality & ignorance. Spread the intelligent word around, not just the word.

I shall learn to forgive myself for my mistakes
This is something we do unconsciously. As women, we tend to be harsher to ourselves for our mistakes, God knows why. Maybe it is because we have been conditioned to be perfect at all times, but nobody is perfect. Our imperfections are the making of us – face it, none of us would’ve been where we are were it not for some mistakes we made some time in life .Let ‘s not be too judgemental of our own selves now. Just let it go, as Elsa says.

 I shall try to be more healthy
We often assume that if we’re thin, we’re healthy. But health goes way beyond size – there are plus size women who can do a perfect shirshasana and there are skinny women who pant after walking two flights of stairs. Being healthy is not just a cosmetic change – it includes possessing an active, stress-free mind, a positive disposition and a lithe body, which helps fixing our plumbing issues caused by hormonal variations and result in pesky menstrual disorders. 

I shall always be independent
Independent here means the ability to not search for someone or something to make you happy. No matter whether you’re married or single, it is you and you alone who is responsible for your own happiness. Depending on others is being a burden on them as well as on us. Being independent also means that you really don’t need anybody else’s approval to do anything in life, as long as you are brave enough to make your own decisions and face the consequences later. It also means not depending on a March 8 to feel special as a woman.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Revisiting The Republic

India Gate, detail, taken on 26th January 2016

Republic Day used to be my favourite national holiday as a child. I remember getting up at 6 am with unexpected gusto and dressing in my best on what always used to be a foggy, rainy and cold winter morning in Delhi. I used to head out, hand in hand with my parents, to watch the parade at India Gate. Some memories from the parade like the showering of marigold petals from helicopters, cheering as one colourful tableau after another sailed ahead and lastly, the flight show which succeeded the national anthem are clearly etched in my head.

As I grew, new questions began to pop in my head. What is a Republic? Why are we a Republic? And most importantly, what does a parade have to do with being a Republic? 
“26 January 1950 was the day the constitution came into force. India has the world’s largest written constitution.  We became a republic nation that day. That is why 26 Jan is celebrated as the Republic Day” The voice of my social studies teacher still drones in my ear. I got the basics right, but my questions still remained unanswered.

As a somewhat fully-functional adult, I now know that we are not just a republic, but a democratic republic. I know that being a republic means being able to elect an individual representing us. I know that we are one because we follow the constitution which grants equal rights to all of us, irrespective of race, religion, caste and colour. I surmise that the parade is just a means to instil a sense of unity & national pride in all of us.

Over the past few months, however, I haven’t seen an iota of either unity or national pride. All I have seen is division – between man & woman, between states & the union and of course between one religion & another. Jingoism was mistaken for Patriotism and hastily dubbed as National pride, thanks to the union home ministry issuing orders for the disabled to maintain maximum alertness during the national anthem. As money became paper overnight, the corrupt raised voice using poor man as shield.  Animal cruelty took precedence over animal welfare in Jallikattu. Men behaved worse than animals on New Year’s eve in Bangalore. Internet became an important platform to voice the displeasure of army men over their alleged mistreatment, while the same internet was used by trolls to target child actors.

Unity isn’t a difficult word to understand if one puts their head to it. Neither is equality and nor is national pride. How difficult is it for us to accept the opinions of others without branding, admonishing or hating them for it? Is it impossible for us to see people as they are, and not through glares of religion, region or caste? Why must we discriminate people on any other basis except sheer talent? And why, after 68 years of being a democratic republic and 71 years of being an independent nation do we still find ourselves divided at the national anthem? India indeed is a land of many tongues, but unfortunately, a majority of them seem to be wagging for unnecessary reasons.

Amidst all this chaos, the Republic day parade serves as an extravagant but essential reminder for all of us to stay united for at least 90 minutes. There is so much we have in common with our fellow countrymen that it is impossible to ignore. There is a common strain of love flowing through every religion. There are common ingredients in the cuisines of the North and the South. The same ocean water caresses the east coast as well as the west. But in a country with around 1.2 billion people, there are bound to be vastly divided opinions, some overpowering the other. In this case, we must rely on our sense of judgement and our innate values to choose the better opinion and form our own. Some opinions must be valued and some must be forgotten, but respect and love must be accorded to all. The ideals of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam must be taught and upheld by us, the people of this nation, for if there is any country on the face of the earth that can follow that ideal, it is India.

Happy Republic Day!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Oh Womaniya - Part III

The early hours of 1 January 2017 began with the ceaseless beeping of my phone. Within half an hour, I had received about 50 Whatsapp messages, all New Year wishes, from family, friends, former colleagues & even people I hadn’t spoken to in ages.  Some greetings were images, some videos & some GIFs. There was, however, one word, common to all of them – hope.

Yes, that was what 2017 represented – hope. Hope for a better year, better life, better future & better prospects. Sadly, at that very moment, hope for humanity was slowly eroding in the form of the mass molestation that was taking place in Bengaluru.

What happened over the next few days after the incident was terribly predictable. The number of social media articles on women’s safety in the country rose, more such attacks came into light ,a minister in power blamed women, their attire and ‘western culture’  for this incident & news debates accompanied with bright hashtags broadcasted their way into primetime. What will happen in a few days is also equally & unfortunately predictable. This news will die a slow, painful death, the minister will continue to remain in power & news channels will go on with other debates. This seems to be the drill. This is what happened during Nirbhaya. Why should Bengaluru be any different?

As a woman of this nation, I am tired of the superfluous drill. I am fed up of seeing the perpetrators go scot free or even die a death that was too easy for them. I am afraid, that one day, my exhaustion might turn into dispassion, and that rape & molestation might become ‘common’ in our country.

But what I am most, is angry. Angry that because the cowards under the hide of the molesters, consider women to be their personal property. Angry at their hypocrisy, which enables them to bow in front of the Divine Mother, but leer & grope Her own embodiment. Angry at ministers who blame attire instead of perverts in the society. Angry that even though it is 2017, women don’t get the respect they deserve.

But my anger is directionless. Who should take the blame for these constant attacks against women, be it rape, molestation or acid attacks? Should it be the police, who find themselves perennially helpless in these cases? Should it be the government, which thinks that remuneration & funds will boost security for women? Or should it be men folk in general, innocent or guilty, whether father, brother, friend or husband?

Unwritten, society-created archaic rules are majorly to be blamed for these attacks. Nowhere is it written that sons should be cherished & daughters should be killed. No religion in the world says that men have to be educated and respected, while women have to be illiterate & ill-treated. No book says that women can’t work or men can’t cook. No teaching says that it is okay for a man to torment a woman, either physically or mentally.  And no law in this country says that men are superior to women. These are all notions developed by humans who consider themselves capable enough to dictate rules, not God.  All holy books are the same for both man and woman. When God doesn’t discriminate, how can we?

While I understand that India is a fairly peaceful democracy, I fail to understand why some crimes cannot have barbaric punishments, at least to instil fear of the law in the society. Call me insensitive, but I do not understand why the human rights of a criminal must be considered when he has failed to consider the human rights of a woman.  This delay in meting out punishment for criminals is probably another reason for a rise in women-related crimes. When one knows that he might not even be caught, let alone be put on trial for a crime, why would one fear?

After ranting my heart out in this article, I might get back to my book. You, the reader, might hastily read this and get back to your evening. But what about the girls who went out in a joyous mood to ring in the New Year, and came home mentally disturbed & humiliated? Their start of the year has been no less than a nightmare. Their only chance of getting back to normal is the four-letter word the year began with – hope. A hope that their perpetrators will pay for their sins. A hope that women will someday, finally be free. A hope that their sons will be taught to respect & honour women to get respect & honour from them. A hope that words like rape & molestation will become history. And a hope that India will never have another ‘Night of Shame’

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Askew-ed Up Bangalore

Over two months of living in Bangalore, but I still struggle to find a perfect word to describe this city.  Anytime people ask me how I find Bangalore as a city, I mutter non-committal phrases like ‘ has a beautiful  climate’ and/or ‘ You get good south Indian food’ , only to be retorted with a ‘ This weather?  You should’ve been here 20 years ago – that was when Bangalore’s weather was beautiful’ or a ‘Duh! You don’t get good south Indian food here anymore. Everything has become commercial’. This prompts me to ask them to describe a bit of the pre-IT Bangalore, but all I get in return are wistful stares into (presumably) the past and statements like ‘ There were trees everywhere’ and ‘ There were not as many vehicles then as they are now’, which, frankly, doesn’t distinguish Bangalore from any developed/developing Indian city.

In my observations, I find this city rather odd. Vehicles tread down pothole-adorned roads, dodging other vehicles as well as pedestrians. As a result, distance is measured by time. For example, a distance of 15 kms will easily take 1.5 hours in lean traffic. High rise buildings share their boundaries with piles of rotting garbage.  Major junctions seem to be bereft of traffic signals, zebra crossings and consequentially, any order whatsoever. Lakes, which normally form a visual recess to the plains, spew inflammable foam instead of hosting fresh water. Mains, crosses and Margs begin to swim in a whirlpool in my brain. With all this, it seems unfathomable that the city was once a ‘ paradise for pensioners’. A recent read of TJS George’s short biography of Bangalore made it slightly more fathomable, and also gave me an apt word to describe Bangalore – Askew.

The cover of TJS George's short biography of Bangalore - Askew, published by Aleph Book Company

Anybody who finds the history of cities interesting will find Askew to be quite an enthralling read.  It begins with the evolution of New York and Hong Kong, the cities in which the author had previously lived in, and slowly focuses closer back home, to Bombay and Patna.
 The tale of Bangalore begins with the brief history of how the city was set up in the 1500s by Kempe Gowda, the founder of the city, who built a city taking into account the area’s ‘hillocks and valley’ topography. According to his mother’s orders, he ensured that the city was adorned with ample lakes and trees. The British left its mark here when it started to set up its cantonment in the 1800s.As India gained independence and the public sector began to come into play, islands of townships – ITI, BEL, HMT etc – with facilities like schools and shops began to form within the city. All in all, Bangalore seemed to have been built in an organized manner, with Jayanagar touted to be one of the largest planned neighbourhoods in Asia. The advent of IT, along with a breed of corrupt politicians brought along illegal constructions, the garbage mafia and total chaos to an erstwhile peaceful city. The disorder caused by illegal constructions & ‘swanky’ flyovers led to rapid deforestation. Thus began  a slow, yet sure decline in the city’s climate and air quality. IT people, as the author says, represented “ a kind of fashionable rootlessness”, and the IT industry ‘ set up fancy headquarters buildings with no thought to the living and commuting needs of their tens of thousands of employees’, thus losing the chance for orderly development completely.  I have never heard anyone tell the truth about IT so eloquently.

If history connoisseurs find the geopolitical history and development of Bangalore as a city in this book fascinating, food connoisseurs will find the cuisine of Bangalore to be a gastronomical delight. The author has devoted pages and pages on the various restaurants here, from the well-known MTR to the local upahara bhavans. Udupi cuisine began to flourish in the city as Shivalli brahmins, especially around the areas of Basavangudi & Malleswaram set up the first Udupi restaurants in the city. Udupi restaurants set an unparalleled, excellent quality of food as all the dishes made & served  were meant to be offered to the Lord, and hence, no compromise on the ingredients was tolerated.

Other unusual food joints began to make their mark in the city. The McDonalds-inspired Cafe Darshini, which was an instant success  due to it’s excellent South Indian food and friendly prices, the Nammura hotel which sells all its dishes by weight & the By 2 Cafe, which served filter coffee along with four dishes on the menu- idli, vada, khara bhaat (upma) and kesari bhaat ( sooji halwa).

While one side of Bangalore had its traditional, all vegetarian Udupi fare , the other had vindaloo , fish-n-chips and beef in the form of Koshy’s, originally named Parade Cafe. Set up keeping the English crowd of the cantonment area in mind, Koshy’s did brisk business as it provided the English with a taste of their much beloved non vegetarian food in what seemed to be a vegetarian’s paradise.Food in Bangalore today has branched out. There is hardly any cuisine one cannot get here, be it the ubiquitous Chinese or the slightly rare Korean, but one can still find little gems of South Indian food in certain pockets of the city.

A lost part of Bangalore is the variation in its architecture. Due to the vast presence of Anglo-Indians , beautiful little homes were built in areas as mainstream as MG Road. The acclaimed Goan artist, Mario Miranda finds a connection to Bangalore in the form of his father’s house on St Mark’s Road.  The building has been redesigned since, and now houses a banquet hall. According to the book, only 350 out of 823 heritage buildings remain in modern-day Bangalore .No surprise indeed, as any piece of land is being converted into multi-storied apartments.

The theatre and fine arts are deeply ingrained, thankfully till date, in the soul of Bangalore. Carnatic music reigns, mostly in the form of the Bangalore Gayana Samaja, the oldest running music sabha in the country. The 2000s brought in a wave of modern, electro-pop, death-metal music, and spread across the city. Even today, in the old parts of the city, it isn't uncommon to hear strains of classical Carnatic vocals emanating from one house clashing with thrash metal from another, and yet, inexplicably forming music. Theatres such as Ranga Shankara & Bangalore Little Theatre, continue to thrive and generate interest amongst people.

The book is a quick & gripping read, with 5 chapters housed in 128 pages, and easy on the pocket at around Rs 299. The author manages to blend in the present whilst tapping into the city’s past and its cultural & social heritage. Reading this book transported me to the Bangalore of 30 years ago, where ‘ life was orderly and people had the time to greet passing strangers’.

P.S:  I decided to follow the author's argument in the Bengaluru vs Bangalore debate - '..this book is in English and I prefer to use the English spelling of Bangalore. If a Kannada version appears someday, I shall insist on Bengaluru' . Needless to say, I have great respect for the language as well as the state of Karnataka.