Jump Start 2014 – Day 1

The last few days began on a low note  - open the newspaper to read about governors being transferred,  war against ‘love jihad’ and other such absolutely ridiculously demoralising stuff. The kind that makes you swear off the news and the country.

Which is why I was thrilled to attend Jumpstart 2014. It made me upbeat. It made me happy. It made me hopeful about the state of at least something in this country – in this case, children’s literature.

The theme this year is Let’s Play and boy, did we play! The session was inaugurated by Dr Martin Hanz, Deputy Chief of Mission, the German Embassy, New Delhi.  Split across two days, the first day is called Inspiration and the very inspiring Nury Vittachi gave the keynote address. His sense of humour and comic timing is impeccable and even if you’d never read a book of his, it was easy to see why his books are such a hit. He had the audience in splits and it was the perfect note to set for the day. He made some remarkably funny observations about Disney hating mothers, hence killing them all off – from Cinderella to Finding Nemo.

The first discussion was by the books panel and they spoke about the idea of game or play in children’s books and their experience of playing with books. Nury spoke about what it takes to write a good book for kids. In a culture of storytelling, your story needs to be better than the ones every mother and grandmother are telling. The message of the story, needs to be one that is international. As he pointed out, it’s easy to be a star within your own community and friends – what shows that your idea is valuable, is international acceptance. The stories that make it, are those that carry deeper messages than what is obvious. Even a simple fairytale like Cinderella says, your mama will die one day, but you’ll survive and eventually it will all be okay.

For those who don’t believe that writing for children is a real job, they need only look at the books that have supported the industry and raked in millions – the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games and most recently, The Fault in Our Stars. Currently, children’s books dominate the industry and one would be have to be blind to miss it. What is interesting is how many other industries are depending on them, from film to chart topping music with Frozen and the FIOS.

It is, however, a pity, that none of this work is coming out of Asia – and leaves us a lot of room for growth.

Author and illustrator of children’s books, Sophie Benini Pietromarchi  (Bangalore folk, you’ll regret missing her so check out these dates and venues) is exactly as I’d imagined someone who wrote such books to be. Very much the artist, she’s more at ease demonstrating than speaking and I was fascinated by the work she’d brought along to display. She points out that children learn to play with colour early in life. From mixing different foods on their plates to exploring their surroundings. To write for children, she says, you need to play all your life. Pick up mundane stuff around your house and create a treasure map around it. Her Colour Book gives you a good idea of what she means.

Asha Nehemiah has written thirteen books for children and is much loved by the Brat and the Bean. Perhaps, because of the way she looks at her audience – children can spot the enchanting in the most mundane she says and one is reminded of her book The Mystery of the Silk Umbrella. She works with schools for marginalised children and her word-a-coaster game requires them to make up entire sentences with each successive letter of the alphabet. Like – A Boy Can Dance Everyday For Good Health. And I picked this up just during that short session with her. She says the children can go through the alphabet twice without stopping and I am not surprised. A child’s imagination is boundless. Children’s writers who can capture that are the successful ones.

After the book/authors panel, the pedagogy panel came on to discuss Play in and as Pedagogy. Amukta Mahapatra, Director, SchoolScape, a centre for educators made a very spare presentation – concise, precise and very interesting. There are certain universal tendencies, she said and one of them is that humans have a tendency to explore from the time they are born. Next, they try to create order, or a pattern in their discoveries. Then they use their intelligence and imagination. And finally, they strive for perfection.

Children do all of this in play. She talked of the Victorian attitude we have towards play, where we dismiss it as diminutive, not recognising that it requires rigour, effort and all of a child’s faculties. Instead we patronise it, because children, like women, have traditionally been dismissed and oppressed. One might not agree entirely with that thought process but it’s food for thought.

She pointed out that our homes and schools no longer have space, nor give children the opportunity to play as much as they need. Very well said. Homes are smaller, schools have no space for outdoor activities and they’re entirely landscaped to prevent accidents during school hours and avoid rousing parental ire. Her presentation was over almost too soon and I realised she’d given me more to think about in those 7 odd minutes than anyone has in a long time.

Years ago I had interviewed EK Shaji and fallen in love with his methods. I picked up all the Jodo Gyan products that I could find at the Jodo Gyan resource centre and the Brat and the Bean learned maths the way he had demonstrated to me. I shop there every couple of months and give the maths aids as birthday gifts.

So it was added joy to see him at work again – he demonstrated a few simple ways to teach children maths based on the montessori method of going from the known to the unknown. What is missing in maths, he said, is purpose. So simple! For instance, why should a child care what 4 + 3 is? How does it affect his life? On the other hand, if you connect in an emotional, physical and intellectual manner, ask him guess how many pears in a bag, show him another, let him count the pears, ask him to divide it among his friends and now you’re connecting. After all, what is so romantic about counting rajma, he asked!

The last on this panel was Sujata Noronha of the Bookworm Trust and Library, Goa. She confessed upfront that she isn’t popular with conventional schools because her classes are noisy! She works with the underserved in the area and helps them connect with the written word in ways that excite them. A story about journeys might involve them forming a train, bumping into other carriages, whistling, hooting and running around. A good children’s book is deceptively light on the surface, but has a strong foundation in the ways that matter, she said. Books that deal with death, moving home, the loss of friendship, legitimise experiences. And then she quoted Cat Stevens and asks - Where do the children play? And no, this isn’t the physical space alone. She asked if we leave them enough space in their mind to play with.  She and Shaji made very similar points about the lack of contemporary stories and material that a child can relate to. Black haired dolls, dark skinned characters in the illustrations.

The discussion was thrown open to the audience and was extremely lively. Some of the points that came up were – The stories you tell needn’t necessarily be your own, you need to learn to harvest them. And it’s not always school that can engage your child in play – flip the question around  - how much time are you spending with your child, just playing? Does the current schooling system give children time to play? While telling a child a story, do you impose your morals on them? Do you suggest that this character was ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ for making the choice he did?

Post lunch, Mr Appadurai of Hewlett Packard spoke briefly about the innovations in print and the advantage that digital printing gives you, of personalising content for your reader. Of printing it on synthetic paper so that a child can take it to the bath, to the pool, drag a favourite story around the world without fear of ruining the book.

Author, game designer and screenwriter Anshumani Ruddra then came on, divided the audience into two and had a bunch of until then rather well behaved adults, screaming and clapping as he divided the room in half and turned us against each other as the Knights of Order and the Crusaders of Chaos. And this, he pointed out triumphantly is how a game builds a story and allows you to be a part of the decision making. Much like the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys we grew up with that allowed us multiple choices and endings.

Books are 600 year old technology, he said. Whereas games are as old as time and were played across every society. They were about rules, consequences and interesting choices. Which is precisely what a book requires too. Put it like that and even a purist like me finds it hard to object! While in a book the writer makes the choice for you, in games, you make your own choices. And a game offers you hours and hours of content. It’s up to a parent to decide how much time a child should spend gaming, just as its unhealthy for a child to read all the time. This one hit rather close home. The Brat is a voracious reader and I find myself loathe to push him to play outdoor games. Because you know.. reading is good! But then I remind myself that I’m the adult here, that giving him some balance is my job and so no matter how overjoyed I am that he reads, I shove him out for some fresh air.

Anshumani addressed that fear that many have and said it out loud – Books will not disappear, it is just the channels of distribution that will change. A book may not work in the same format on a screen and that is perfectly fine. It will be reworked by experts to fit the medium it is shifting to.

The final session for the day was Transmedia Storytelling: From Life to Books to Movies to Games to Apps. This began with Padmini Ray Murray, Digital Humanities expert spoke on transmedia tales and how to tell them. I took a special pride in this because 15 years ago we shared a college bench and here she was, giving us a talk that I had paid to attend! She broke down story telling into its main features – form, content, story and character, and the importance of each one in making a successful story. She also spoke of this being the golden age of writing. Of instant feedback (for instance, I write a bad post, you readers tell me so within minutes!) and so on. Of prosumers – consumers who create content around their favourite games and books, fan fiction on blogs and forums, getting instant feedback, and re-writing to suit their audience.

Publishers are the gatekeepers she said, but their role is being eroded. And as content moves from one form to the other, as your book becomes a film, it is only wise to work with those who are converting it to ensure that one form does not cannibalise another. So that the books continue to sell after the film is released. That the game does not kill interest in the film. The one sound bit of advice she offers finally is that as authors, just writing a book is no longer good enough. If you want to see it through all its avatars, you need to come to your publisher with a sound transmedia strategy.

Ralph Mollers, owner and publisher of Terzio Verlag, Munich spoke next. Terzio publishes children’s software, music and books and he spoke about his initial experiments with CD Roms and the beginning of the interactive experience.

The session was rounded up with Jiggy George. No medium is bad, Jiggy pointed out, while I argued that in my head – they’re all just different ways to engage. Be it the Eric Carle museum that gets you to engage more deeply with the Hungry Caterpillar or the fact that the Cat in the Hat is a book, a movie and an app. Digital media should be seen as an extension of the form of storytelling, not a substitute, or competition. Don’t try and do the domain expert’s job, he warns, do your bit and let it go. If you’ve written a game and want to see it converted to a book, give it to a writer to do, as in the case of the Angry Birds. A gamer knows what a game requires to be a hit and a cartoonist knows his turf best. As a creator, give your blessing and lay off. Every product should stand on its own merit, so an Angry Bird app will need to fulfill different criterion.

The day ended sooner than I wanted it to, leaving me with a hundred thoughts buzzing around in my head. Some I agreed with entirely, some I felt conflicted over and some absolutely new and needing a lot more time to mull over. But I have another day at Jump Start to go and I’ll be sure to come back and share it with you.

 

 

Mohalla mobs

Years ago I lived in the now infamous Khirki Extension. I had just begun work, couldn’t afford more and wanted to live in South Delhi. My brother had moved to the US and I was left without a flatmate. After living with a succession of girls who things didn’t work out with, I moved in with a childhood friend. It might have raised a few eyebrows at that time, but our families were comfortable with the arrangement and that is all that mattered to us. His grandmother was my grandmother’s mentor and friend. His mum and mine grew up together. And then, he and his sister and my brother and I. Three generations of friendship.

His mother figured her son would be kept on the straight and narrow now that he had me as his flatmate. I’m known to be quite a prude and very determined. My mother was grateful that I wasn’t a single girl out in Delhi, alone. We got along like a house on fire, had the same friends circle, worked in the same office and had many of the same interests. In fact, he was one of the first to notice the OA’s growing interest in me and teased me mercilessly about him.

The OA would often drop by to visit us, as did our other friends. While there was no loud music or drugs, we did enjoy our little get together. They never ended well, though. We’d walk our guests out, only to find that all their tyres had been deflated. No, they were not parking in anybody else’s spot, but far out.

It’s difficult to explain the concept of Delhi’s many villages to those who haven’t seen them. Khirki was lal dora land. A maze of lanes, squiggly streets, piles of rubble, pink, green, purple houses decorated like confectionery, haphazard parking, houses built cheek by jowl, precluding any trace of privacy, paper thin walls, rooms built like train coaches so that you had to walk through one to get to the other, dingy shafts that hummed with the sound of pigeons cooing and smelled of their shit.

There were empty plots scattered across this mess that most of us used as visitor parking. We’d invariably stand around the car and stare in dismay at the four deflated tyres, while sanctimonious neighbours would stand at their windows, glaring at us, challenging us to take it up with them. There was nothing to be done of course. There was no way to pinpoint the culprit – if there were only one.

If it were too late we’d have the owner of the vehicle stay back at our place, else the boys would chivalrously roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Our landlord was a sweet old grandfatherly gentleman who either assumed we were husband and wife, or didn’t care, because we paid our rent on time, kept the house well and didn’t create a nuisance. He lived on the floor above and would painfully take the stairs, stopping to pant after every second one. Often he’d sit down at my doorstep to catch his breath and if I happened to see him, I’d invite him in. He always refused, but would smile and say – How hard you work, beta. My wife is fast asleep – always is!

I worked with a news channel, so there were shifts. I’d often walk back late at night because the car would drop me at the top of the main road and I’d negotiate the lanes by myself. I look back and wonder how my parents let me do it, but I guess that is what makes me the person I am today.

Khirki was rumoured to be full of ISI agents, plotting, planning, building bombs. We never saw anything to confirm that rumour but it was a running joke that they were too busy plotting about blowing up parliament to bother with us. They’d get their 72 virgins there and weren’t interested in women like us. We were probably haraam!  The streets were full of  young people coming back from work, TV channels, call centre agents. We’d just fall in line with any group headed into the dark lanes and walk home. Oh no, it wasn’t the ISI agents we were bothered by.

It was the local men of the village who were the real problem. Young single boys who thought of us as fair prey, waiting for their mothers to move out of view so that they could pucker up at us. Married men who would step out to pick up groceries and far from their wives’ watchful eyes leer, stare, pass comments. Often the outsiders, the boys who were renting apartments just like us, would defend, support, or simply walk up to the girls and chaperone them to their doorsteps. They were far from home, too. They knew what it was like to be alone. They worked alongside women in their offices and knew that the fact that we were single girls in jeans didn’t mean we were fair game/cheap/anything the local guys imagined.

The months went by and then one night I was fast asleep when I heard a noise at my door. Banging, shouting, abusing. I rushed to the door, to see that my flatmate had already got there. There were a bunch of drunken men outside, screaming abuse. I peeped out of the window and recognised the familiar faces. The guy who lived across the road and often stood at the door scratching his belly over a cup of tea. The creep two floors above him. The bearded guy who always stood at the chai shop down the road and stared. They’d united over a bottle I suppose and demanded that I come out.

I remember the look on my friend’s face as he went out to talk sense into them. I remember them getting violent. I remember rushing out to stand by him. I remember him hurrying back in, because it was the only way to keep me indoors and safe. I remember him barricading the door as best as he could, knowing he was the only buffer between me and those louts.

Those lovely, self respecting middle class men who believed I had the morals of an alley cat because I was sharing a flat with a man I wasn’t married to. Who believed that if I was his wife, I should be home cooking for him, coming out in my nightwear with a dupatta covering my modesty, only to bargain loudly and rudely with the subji wala. That I should  not be working odd hours and wearing sleeveless kurtas. Who were sure this was a den of vice where we solicited men and sold drugs. Who believed that the way to deal with this ‘problem’ was to get drunk and scream filthy abuse at my door.

Their wives stood at their doors and watched openly. Their eyes filled with hatred and distrust of the other. They didn’t like their husbands staring at us girls, and this was one way to get back at us.

The show raged on for more than an hour and we didn’t call the police, because we needed to live there. We couldn’t antagonise the neighbours further unless we had other options. My poor old landlord shuffled down and begged them to leave. He didn’t want to lose a good tenant either. Thankfully they ran out of steam and went home. I sobbed through the night, in terror and shock and anger.

It was the first and last time it happened to me, because I casually let slip in the morning to my maid (who the neighbouring housewives had been persuading to quit my place because it was a den of vice) that I was planning to lodge a complaint with the police and would call in my TV channel to report, if I was harassed again. Maids love to gossip, the message was put across.

When the recent raid on Nigerians and Ugandans made the headlines, I knew that the nosy, moralising residents were at it again – and this isn’t endemic to this area – happens all over the country. Never mind that the cigarette shops sell Madhur Munakka packets for a few rupees, ensuring that most of the much married men roam around in a drug induced haze. Never mind that they get drunk and harass single girls. Oh no… only they are allowed to create a nuisance there. Only they are allowed to set moral standards. Anyone not meeting their rather dubious standards of morality is at the receiving end of such mohalla committees. What next? Set up a khap panchayat under a tree and order the women raped while their men watch. Something like this poor girl who fell in love outside of her caste and was raped by 20 men on the orders of the village elders. Put yourself in her place and ask yourself if you want to be at the receiving end of such mohalla, majority justice.

I find this form of mohalla moral policing, the xenophobia and the misogyny, outrageous – particularly because I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’m sorry I supported the new regime, if this is the way things are going to turn out. We wanted a more lawful regime. Not one where women are dragged out of cars at night, not allowed to use the bathroom, not arrested with a warrant, no lady police officer present. How is this any different from what a rather despised party in Maharashtra behaves around Marine Drive and Valentine’s Day?

I leave you with a piece by Aastha Chauhan.  

And one by Kavita Krishnan who I greatly admire.

Roar, young woman, roar

When I was a newbie in TV there was a guy slightly senior who spent the entire day making inappropriate suggestions, his conversation with me and a couple of the other girls always lewd, full of sexual innuendo. A simple statement like, Damn I have to go to X place and have no reservation, would result in him winking and saying, You can share my berth and we’ll have a lot of fun. In retrospect I realise he never did this in front of anyone senior to him.

None of us girls had the courage to speak up against him although we spent a fair amount of time talking about it and working out strategies to ignore him. The rest of our contemporaries would say, ‘Oh he’s harmless, just a lot of hot air, avoid him.’ Which we did. But how was he harmless when he made us all so uncomfortable, me more than others? What did happen though, was it made us unsure of our issue, we didn’t know if we were being too militant, we didn’t know if we should go to HR and complain (because the poor boy’s career would be ruined over a little joke), we didn’t know how to tell him to shut up (he had a powerful older brother in media)… and so it went. I still regret not having spoken up about it. Media offices tend to be rather casual and it would have been quite a tamasha.

Some time ago I was asked to share a room with a photographer on a shoot and I was finally strong enough to refuse, asking for my own room. Admittedly I am a mother of two but I don’t think that matters. Having to turn off the lights with a strange man I’d never even met before the shoot was something I couldn’t stomach. I lost out on that shoot and that particular publication never offered me any more work inspite of the good work I’d done for them previously. I was probably dropped as too fussy, but I’m okay with that. Would any other corporate/business send a man and a woman on a project and ask them to share a hotel room? Were they going to stand guarantee for the photographer? Would anyone have thought Tarun Tejpal would assault a young girl, one who is friends with his daughter, one whose father he is acquainted with?

There are endless cases of women being harassed at work, and media houses who stand up for the cause of the woman never stop to think of the woman working with them. Here’s hoping the Tehelka journalist stands strong and gets justice. I wish I’d had the courage to do the same.

That girl on the bus

I looked up from my books only when the librarian began to make shooing noises. About time anyway, I thought. My head was aching, my eyes burning and my body exhausted by all the last minute cramming. Quickly putting my papers together I picked up my denim backpack. At 17, heading off to college, I’d wanted a new backpack, just like I had at the beginning of every school year. It was covered in graffiti; lyrics from songs by Metallica, Sepultura, Anthrax, Iron Maiden and decorated with graveyards, skulls, all drawn by my brother and my friends. So that I didn’t miss them too much, they said.

I’d stayed on in the library after classes and most of my regular companions had left much earlier. For once I would have to take the bus alone and as I walked out I realised with a shock that it was dark. It was early spring and the weather unpredictable. I looked at my navy churidar, thin white kameez and chiffon dupatta; woefully inadequate once the sun set and the chill came in. I loved this particular hand embroidered kameez, more so because Ma had embroidered if for me.

Wrapping the dupatta tightly around me I hurried to the bus stop and caught my regular bus pretty soon. I soon got a seat and settled into a corner, my bag arranged over my chest protectively, to avoid roving hands. I’d been awake all night studying and then up early in the morning for college, very short on sleep. The bus rattled on and I gave in to my fatigue, fading in and out of sleep.

I woke up to find myself in a strange part of town. Obviously I’d slept through my stop, I realised in horror. Getting off at the next bus stop I began to to make inquiries about getting home. This was in the good old days when blue lines and chartered buses ran in equal numbers. The only way to ensure you were getting on to the right bus was by listening carefully to the conductor rattle off the route, none of which sounded like anything on earth unless you paid close attention.

India Gate, I asked him? He nodded. I hopped on. I had very little money on me and I couldn’t afford the indulgence of an auto every time it got late.

By now it was really late and dark and I had no fucking clue as to where I was. My head began to ache more. The bus trundled down unfamiliar roads and I felt the panic rise. This was not the age of cell phones. My parents, far away in a small town, saved every rupee to send me to the best college in the country. My brother would start college next year and money was scarce. We couldn’t afford daily long distance calls and if I got lost, no one would know I was missing for a long, long time. I used to be the praying kind in those days, and so I prayed.

Soon the bus did turn on to a road I was familiar with. Vaguely.

And then I realised my mistake. In my nervousness I had only asked the conductor if it passed India Gate. I hadn’t clarified which end of the huge circle I needed to be. And anyone who has lived in Delhi and is familiar with the area will know what a walk that would mean.

The crowd had thinned out and then before I could even decide what to do, the bus turned off into one of the radials. Collecting my belongings and my wits, I walked up to the conductor and asked him where it was off to. Why, its regular route of course, he said. This is where the depot lay and where it would terminate.

Oh, my face fell. I needed to be on the other side of India Gate. By now it was 9 pm and the streets were deserted. I could get off and walk, I thought. Except that it was cold and dark and my lack of sense of direction was legendary.

Why not wait, said the conductor. ‘We have to sign in at the bus depot and show that we completed our route in time. After that we will drop you home.’

It’s a testament to how young, innocent, tired, desperate and foolish I was, that I agreed nervously. It seemed like a better option to walking back down the lonely road in the dark, not knowing which was the correct radial to take to go back home, encountering all sorts of people on the road.

They stopped at the bus depot and got off to do their official business. I sat on the first seat, a stone statue. I began to count every mistake I’d made since the day began. From getting little sleep, to studying too late in the library, to dropping off because of exhaustion. Yes, victim blaming usually begins at home.

Around me was darkness. A few other buses were parked in the dark. Rough voices shouted out to each other. I held back my terrified tears. The conductor’s head popped in the door and asked, Would I like some tea; it was a cold night.

‘No thank you, I don’t drink tea.’ I really didn’t want to offend him but I wasn’t allowed to drink tea while growing up and hadn’t grown into the habit after leaving home.

Ah, you must be a Christian, he said sagely.

H-h-how did you guess, I managed.

Because Christians don’t let their children get into tea-coffee habits, he pronounced.

And then he walked off and got himself and the driver a cup of tea. While they drank it they chatted with me about what I was studying and where I was from. He told me about his daughter, also doing her BA so that she could better herself. She too often had to travel back alone from college. Considering I was at their mercy to get home, I couldn’t think of any other polite option so I kept up my end of the conversation.

They finished their tea, paid up and then true to their word, drove me not just to the street I lived on but as close to my residence as the bus was allowed.

I got off the bus, my knees weak with relief and waved them goodbye.

Years later a much older girl got on to a bus on a busy Delhi street, at around the same time of night. She was with a companion, yet she got brutally raped and died.

She shouldn’t have been out so late they said. They shouldn’t have got on to a chartered bus they said. They shouldn’t have stayed on the bus when they realised there were no other passengers, they say.

I’ve spent a lot of the last month fighting these battles online. Trying to do everything I can to spread awareness. To stop the victim blaming. Because as a wise woman once said, when you blame the victim, you are defending the rapist.

Have you ever looked at it that way? Every time you think she should have avoided going out late, she should have taken an auto, she should have, she should have, she should have, you’re missing the point. It’s not what she should have. It’s what he SHOULDN’T have.

SHE and WE are just regular women trying to make our way in the world. We’ve all been educated by our parents in the hope that we’ll make something of ourselves. We work the same hours and then carry the same weary bodies back home on the same crowded buses that men do. The only difference is the way in which we hold our bodies. Arms folded against our chests, heads down, bag held defensively.

We all have the same series of events leading up to bad days. Late nights, working too hard, long days, missed buses and exhaustion that leads to us making that one mistake. Getting off at the wrong place, getting on the wrong bus, trusting the wrong people. Sometimes the only difference lies in that one mistake, taking that day from simply bad, to fatal.

The truth is, we can’t just sit home now. We’ve tasted freedom and independence, and we’re hooked. We’ve come too far to turn back now. We can’t live our lives cowering in fear. We cannot be stifled or restricted. We cannot be sheltered any longer. If I must live my life in fear and depend on my husband or brother to take me out, I shouldn’t have wasted my time getting an education. I should have just stayed home and stuck to cooking and cleaning. Why this false sense of equality where education is concerned when we can’t take that education and equality and make something of it? When we’re constantly being chaperoned or else at risk?

I urge you all, don’t stay home in fear. Step out. Fill the streets. Let them know they can’t push us back in. Let them grow used to seeing us out and about. Make it safer for yourself as well as the other girls simply trying to get home. From office, from a club, from hospital, from the airport. We’re living the same lives that men are. We have a right to the same safety they have. They just don’t want to see it yet. Someday they will.

A fine line…

You know, this is not about Yo Yo Any Singh. It is about the very same young men who agree a change in attitude is required, refusing to recognise that this too, is bad attitude. Who believe that by putting up a fight against a song we find disrespectful and violent in the extreme we’re denying him his freedom of speech.
Unlike purdah or vegetarianism, rape is one of those few issues on which everyone is in agreement – it is wrong. It is a crime. Why then is a song about it okay? What exactly is the message you send out when you say its not okay to rape but completely okay to sing about it?
Am I saying that men who listen to a song called Main Balatkari Hoon will go out and rape? No, I’m just saying that there is something seriously wrong with a song that glorifies rape and makes it acceptable. And something seriously wrong with dancing to those words mindlessly. We all spent a lot of our youth dancing to absolutely inappropriate music and singing along. But if 15 years later I can step back and take a fresh look at it, I’d just call that growing up and perhaps accepting where I was wrong.
No, don’t compare it to Munni and Fevicol. The slight difference most of you don’t seem to get is *consent*.
No, don’t compare him to Rushdie or Hussain. That would be sacrilege. And I don’t believe either of them promoted violence against any group of people. There are laws against hate speech – and if rape is not an expression of violence, I don’t know what is.
Yes, it would be nice if Bollywood and Ekta Kapoor stopped making regressive content, but that doesn’t mean one can’t object to this too. Still a huge difference between singing about graphic rape and watching a saas and bahu battle it out over a man.
No, I don’t think we’re distracting from the main issue – what is the main issue btw? Only getting justice for the late 23 yr old? Not a safer place for the living 3 and 93 year olds? We will keep fighting for a change in laws, for speedier justice, and yes, for a change in attitude. We will object and fight misogyny at every step.
With some pretensions to creativity, I believe in freedom of expression. But your freedom ends at my nose. And in this case my nose is right here. Where every woman’s nose is.
Is it not telling that there are no women who find this song acceptable? Freedom of expression is not absolute and does not give you the right to abuse someone. It gives you a right to interpret, yes, but there is a fine line after which you might be inciting violence.
Is it also not telling that expression of such violence against women finds acceptability even among some otherwise enlightened, aware, gentle men?
All the laws on earth can be put in place but until you change your attitude, you’re only putting away more people, not preventing it from happening.
And what is it that shapes our attitude? Our attitude is shaped by everything within our culture, be it film, books, music, what we teach our kids, what their schools teach them and what we soak up from people around us.
YOU may not listen to Any old Singh, but then you’re not the ones getting out of pubs and trawling the streets for unsuspecting women either. Neither are you the sort who paid 15k to have him bring in the New Year at an upscale hotel.
Ladies, that should tell you what you need to know.
There is a whole section out there who don’t believe we have a right to be out on the streets.
And then there is the section who believe we have an equal right to be out on the streets but are unwilling to even step into our shoes for a minute and see what it feels like to be at the receiving end of such violence, aggression and hatred.
I’ll end with Aretha:
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. … Find out what it means to me.

Yes – what it means to me, not what *you* deem appropriate, but what *I* consider respectful.

Do read this piece on the effects of music on society  and this one of the role of music in society. 

I wish you all a 2013 that is better than 2012. May our daughters inhabit a safer world than the one we live in. May our sons be gentlemen in the true sense of the word.

Hurt

I’m going to stop making excuses for the long absences because I have a feeling you’re used to them now. I’ve been meaning to write for a while but and it took two things to shake me out of my stupor. The more recent of Indians ill-treating their kids in Norway and the film, Talaash.

Every family has it’s own way of handling matters and I don’t think any of us can be arrogant enough to imagine that ours is the only and best way. But not every parent always does everything with their child’s best interests at heart. If I had a rupee for every selfish parent I’ve come across, I’d be a rich, retired woman.

It is very sad and slightly embarrassing to have at least one Indian couple pulled up every year on grounds of ill-treating their kids. Until yesterday the only information we had was that their 7 year old was bed-wetting and they threatened to send him back to India. I can only imagine the child’s mortification at wetting himself in school and I wonder how the parents thought threats would be the solution. Is it not clear that there is something seriously wrong with him? And who are these people go abroad on projects if they’re not even educated enough or aware enough to check with a specialist when they see something so unusual in their child, I remarked to the OA while watching the news.

At which point the OA pointed out that a degree in software engineering or geophysics is just that – a degree. It doesn’t make you any more aware as a person or more involved as a parent. It is a reminder of the premium we place on a degree in this country, without any effort towards general awareness. Sit and mug for your engineering entrances, never mind that you know nothing about the world around you. All the code writing ability on earth will not change the way some people think and there are still those who won’t step out in an eclipse if they’re pregnant or who will think their wife is unclean for 3 days every month. I notice compassion is a quality we rarely seek to develop in ourselves.

Interestingly, none of the Indian media until today mentioned the fact that the boy was apparently being beaten with hot metal items and belts. This made my stomach turn. If it is true, I hope Norwegian legal system locks them up for life.

In the  Stavanger case the couple spoke of cultural differences – some of the objections against them were that they were feeding the kids by hand and co-sleeping with them. People who move abroad and consistently do stuff that is culturally inappropriate are my next peeve. I’m sure there is no law against feeding kids by hand, but when in Rome… Surely you realise that your kids will need to eat with a fork and spoon in school. Surely you know they will be teased by classmates who hear that they still sleep with their parents at age 6 or whatever it is that is culturally appropriate there. Kids depend on their parents to support them and give them their best and sometimes the best is ensuring that they don’t stick out like sore thumbs anymore than they already do, that they feel at home around their friends. Their social circle is not your village elders in India. Of course once it gets out and about in school, this is the route it will take, with social service knocking at your door to see why your teenage daughter is asked to eat away from the family for a couple of days and sleep on the floor. And then it is too late to cry foul. Years ago I had written a post objecting to a British (was it?) plan to give out little booklets to educate immigrants on the culture. I was offended because I can wield my fork as well as the next person, know my cheeses and certainly don’t go about spitting on walls. But I’d not factored in the likes of these who go abroad and give the rest of us a bad reputation in the name of culture.

If culture really overrides all else for you, then you should stay home and steep your kids in it like a teabag. Throwing them into the hot water of contradictions in another country is just not fair. And I’ve heard it so often from friends and cousins abroad during our growing years – the desi tiffin that no one wants to share (unless you live in some hardcore desi district), the teeka you wear to school and cannot rub off until your mother leaves the bus stop by which time everyone has seen it and begun to make fun of you. I’m not prescribing uniformity. I’m asking for compassion for kids. Childhood/ adolescence is hard enough without us making them banners carrying our political slogans. Culture is what we are deep inside – not what we take to school in our tiffin. A sandwich for tiffin is not denial, just as sleeping in their own cots won’t reduce the family bond.

I’m also surprised that the family is putting pressure on the Indian government to help them. How is it that people will jump at the opportunity to go abroad and work, make the most of the fantastic infrastructure, work life balance, blah de blah, but not give a fig about the local laws and customs that make it the fantastic country it is? And now you come running home to mummy for help. I’m glad the Ministry of External Affairs has put its foot down and refused to get involved. I’d be horrified if they did.

I took forever to write this post today because it was in between work and home. I stepped out twice to pick up the kids from the bus stop and one of those times I saw a mother walking her son back from school. Neatly oiled hair, ragged saree and ragged shawl, cracked heals in worn slippers. Her son on the other hand was in a neat albeit faded school uniform and dusty shoes with a girl’s woollen cap on his head.  Now I know where the closest school for the disadvantaged is and I realised how far they’d come walking from.

Nothing we don’t see on a daily basis in India, but coming close on the heels of the Norway cases it broke my heart. How often we say the poor shouldn’t have kids if they cannot afford to give them the basics – an education, a good home. Well, who decides what the basics are here? I’d imagine love is the basic. Here was a mother denying herself so that her child was warm, and getting an education. And she has to walk twice the distance everyday to pick up and drop him so that he doesn’t have to maneuver through traffic each way. They were chatting cheerfully as they passed me and didn’t even notice the woman whose eyes welled up as they walked by. And on the other hand you have these rich families based abroad, ill-treating the kids society doesn’t grudge them. Yes, they give them better food, warm clothes, homes and education, but what about time and love?

Speaking of safety and kids, there is Talaash. At this point I’m going to warn you to stay away if you haven’t seen the movie, because spoilers lie ahead. Two emotions dominate my parenting. Love and terror. Love so strong, it hurts. Terror that I will lose this precious love, so fierce that it constricts. It explains why I have worked from home for the last 8 years. It’s not the best way to live, but it is the only way I know. The first time you hold your child, you worry that you might drop him. At the first sign of a cold, you worry about his health. For the first few days you’re terrified of drowning him in the bathtub. When he begins to take school transport, you worry about accidents. There is no end to the fears, just as the love is limitless.

And to me, that is all Talaash was about. I went with an open mind and didn’t look for loopholes in the thriller. To me it was just two parents who went through every parent’s worst nightmare – losing a child. And then it depicted the way their grief manifested itself. People are complaining that it is wasn’t what you expected of Aamir. Heck, why are you expecting anything from Aamir? He’s just another human, just another entertainer, just an artist who probably wanted to explore a genre he hadn’t. Personally I’m glad he picked this route and not the creaking gates and screeching ghouls. I’m glad he took the paranormal and with this gentle exploration said, hey, who knows… I’m amused when people pick loopholes in a paranormal film – who sent you the memo on what ghosts are supposed to do/say/look like?

It all comes back in a loop of course, to the Indian couples in Norway. THIS is what happens when you lose a child. How could you have taken this privilege, this blessing, so lightly? May God forgive them. I know I can’t.

If there is one good thing you do this year…

… please help Sonali Mukherjee. Take a look at the picture and read the story below. Call the numbers and do your due diligence if you must. But I beg you, please send her some money. Think about it – even if you send her what you’d spend on airfare for a holiday and take a train instead, you’ll be sending her a substantial sum. Also, read this piece if you get the chance. —————- On April 22, 2003, I, Sonali Mukherjee, was severely injured in an acid attack, that left me with a burnt face, burnt body, blind and partially deaf. I was just 17-years-old then. Three assailants – Tapas Mitra, Sanjay Paswan, and Bhrahmadev Hajra, our neighbors in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, poured acid on me while I slept. Before I could realize I felt as if my body was on fire and I collapsed. They punished me because I dared to complain against their eve teasing. When I warned them, they told me I was haughty and proud about my looks. They said they will ruin my face beyond recognition. And when that did not deter me, they carried through their threat and you can see the consequences.

The accused were immediately taken into custody, but were released on bail in 2006. My father and I approached the high court, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, MPs and various other authorities for justice, but no one listened. Since then, they are roaming scot-free. For 9-years we have been fighting a case against them and requesting the authorites to cancle their bail, but no success has come our way yet. I am in extreme pain since the incident and don’t have the capacity to withhold it anymore – neither the money nor the hope.
My father, Chandi Das Mukherjee, has spent everything we had to keep me alive – land, jewellery, everything! My treatment has already cost us 12-15 lakhs, as a result of which we owe a lot of money to our relatives. The medical authorities require another 10-15 lakhs for my further treatment. Additionally, substantial amount of money has been spent on the court cases. Therefore, I demand either justice and help in treatment or permission to end my life. If there is any possibility of getting my rightful life back, then please help me by signing this plea of mine to the prime leaders of this country.
PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION and help me get justice and means to live the remaining part of my life without pain and agony. Should you want to help us monetarily or in any other way, send your donations to
Chandi Das Mukherjee A/C – 0612000103217964, Punjab National Bank, Nauroji Nagar Branch, IFSC Code: 0061200 New Delhi
Contact Numbers:
Chandi Das Mukherjee: 09437638600
Sonali Mukherjee – 09210022919
Devashish Mukherjee – 09437638600