Life is cheap, death is cheaper

Alright girlies, enough fun and games. Lets get back to the serious stuff. Was recently talking to a self-righteous Indian prig who was rattling on about the lack of morals in the West – going back to the favourite example of school yard shootouts. I often wonder where such people grew up. Maybe on a parallel planet to mine. The OA was probably on it too because he grew up rather innocent compared to me.

I often think back on my misspent youth and scandalise the OA with the frequent references to violence. For instance, there was this time recall a guy bumped  into me on the school stairwell and went on to brag about it in the boys’ toilet. It might seem like nothing to most of you – but those who grew up in small town UP will know what that means. It means war.

The childhood sweetheart and a friend got to hear of it. They caught him outside school, walked up to his cycle, leaned on the handlebars and casually asked him what he was up to. And this being small town UP, the guy knew they were all part of my life in one way or another, knew exactly what they were referring to and pretty much shat his pants. He swore to stay ten feet away from me and to his credit, he did.

They told me about it later and I was mad at them for getting into a fight over what I thought was a non-issue. Anyhow. The incidents involving me didn’t stop. And the last couple ended in one of them pulling out a katta. A country pistol. It didn’t surprise me. I’d grown up knowing that they were part of our lives and I also knew they could sometimes just explode in the user’s hands, injuring him more than the intended victim.

But that is small town UP for you. Insults fly fast and thick. Sisters and mothers are defended as aggressively as they are used in abuse. Country made pistols and country liquor is available for a song. Even school boys know how to get their revenge by breaking your arm just the night before the board exams so that you can’t even get a writer for the papers. A classmate’s body found floating down the Ganga on the morning of our 12th boards ensured that all of us girls cried through our English paper.

The last incident before I left for college  ensured that my boyfriend didn’t go alone anywhere for the month before the exams. Four of them (including my brother) were surrounded at our favourite coffee shop, by 40 guys pulling up in Maruti vans with chains and hockey sticks and guns. There was negotiation and politics and finally an uneasy truce was reached. One we couldn’t trust. He didn’t appreciate it but my brother was his best friend and picked him up each morning and dropped him home each night – brooking no further argument. It was the best protection he could have had. If you want to woo a girl, you can beat up her boyfriend but not her brother. Those are the rules. The honour among thieves so to speak.

I look back on the years and wonder if I really lived through them as calmly as I did. It was all so cool in those days. My friends have all grown up to be respectable bankers and software engineers now and I wonder if they look back on those days fondly or with embarrassment. Long, hot, dusty afternoons spent sitting in the semi-dark coolth(!) of the desert coolers, talking in low voices as family slept around us, discussing who had stepped out of line and needed to be taken down a peg or two.

Of course it wasn’t all blood and gore.  Sometimes it was quite hilarious. One afternoon an admirer (a classmate) who kept borrowing my notebooks decided to use that pretext to visit me and turned up home to return a register. The entire gang was shooting the crap at my place, drinking Pepsi, playing carom and generally doing the only things you can do in a small dead-end town. I begged the boys to shut up and let me deal with it. Then I walked out, took my register, and exchanged a few polite words with him before I sent him on his way. As the words came to an end I saw him start to shuffle nervously backwards. I turned around to see all the guys had silently lined up behind me, arms calmly crossed  – very filmy. The guy never borrowed my notes again. I didn’t speak to them for the rest of the day. I really did think I could handle my problems. This one is only funny in retrospect!

When I met the OA and he began to hear childhood stories, he laughed. They sounded possible – just not plausible. Then he came home with me, met the guys, realised how casual violence was in small town UP and came back a changed man. His wife, was not what he thought she was. She actually had – a violent past!

When I told him one of the terms of endearment was  – excuse the french – chutiyam sulphate, he died laughing. It means nothing really – it’s just a very local crudity! I made my brother confirm it and I think the icing on the cake was hearing it in the film Ishqiya, recently. I feel vindicated.

Anyhow, its only when you become a parent that you realise how scary it is to know that your child could be neck deep in bicycle chains, home-made bombs (yes, I learned how to make one), molotov cocktails, knuckle dusters, knives, kattas, and nunchakus.

I had earlier written about Irom Sharmila and in the last few months I’ve had the privilege of meeting and chatting with Binalakshmi Nepram. Each time I talk to her I hear of a new atrocity in Manipur that the media has neglected to report and then I figure that whining isn’t going to help and I should use the little platform I have here to do some good. I don’t want my kids growing up and having as easy access to violence as we did.  And if you don’t believe me, well, here’s a list I got from Bina. You can get more information here.

Forty bucks for a landmine. Can you beat that? Two hundred bucks for a hand grenade. That’s all it costs. Why are arms so easily accessible and affordable?

And if this wasn’t bad enough, I recently came across this. Indians for Guns. Err… why? Don’t we have enough violence on the streets of Delhi with drunk men shooting celebrity bartenders because the bar has shut for the day? Or must one remind readers of Soumya Vishwanathan? I don’t see how it is fair to ensure rights for gun holders, when the average citizen on the street seems to have fewer rights to living fearlessly and peacefully.

I am sure there are statistics about crimes being committed with unlicensed arms etc, but what exactly are we keeping licensed guns for in that case? Hunting game? Black buck, anyone? Or to protect ourselves. In which case, why go about this in the aggressive manner? Why the need to have personal arms? Why is no one working for a better police system and judiciary? Why not citizens watch groups? I notice two MPs on the list – why don’t they help the legal system along and make it a safer country for us instead of making it easier to have arms. Why should a citizen need to protect himself when he has a government?

There will be plenty talking about how we NEED this protection. But I am tired of negative thought and negative action. How about some constructive thought and action? How about setting up a group for a safer country for us and our children. So that our honourable MPs don’t have to send their kids to school with bodyguards. Violence is not the answer. It never is. And if even the leaders of our nation don’t see that, it’s a sad day indeed.

Numbers, numbers

Found this interesting site and was horrified as I watched the numbers running and the births being double the deaths. It’s almost like a bad sci-fi movie.

On the other hand the abortion ticker left me open mouthed. There’s one every second. Is contraception no longer fashionable? Or is life unfashionable? Damn – I must have missed that memo.

*Hurries off to hunt through her email for missing memos*

Where mother’s day doesn’t exist

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. And while we waste time doing silly little things like begging you to vote for our Motherhood posts (dang, but I hope you voted for me!) … there are women suffering indignity of the worst kind. Government funded health workers are refusing to touch pregnant Dalit women. Yes. Really. The tax I pay is being used to pay the scum of the earth who think their precious hands are too good to touch these poor pregnant women just because they are Dalits. It makes my blood boil. What’s more, the anganwadi centres are run out of the homes of the upper caste who don’t allow the Dalit women in, so that the health workers anyway don’t end up meeting them. Click here to read the kind of abuse they face.

Here we are, groaning through pregnancies where we’re pampered, eating healthy food, visiting the best hospitals, getting the best care, swaning around in maternity wear – while there are women at the other end of the spectrum going through the same discomfort and being treated like shit. Would we go through our pregnancies if we had to live their lives? I often wonder how much of my love for motherhood stems from the fact that I’ve got a much better life than that…. It’s a question that shakes me to the core.

Anu mailed me too, about my gender wishlist from the elections. I didn’t have any because right now my concerns are more of terrorism and religious intolerance. And maybe also because no damn doctor dare tell me that I am too lowly to be touched. Not if they don’t want their damn arm ripped off and shoved down their throat. But I see what gives me the confidence to fight that while the poverty-striken Dalit woman shrinks away in fear.

And this sort of discrimination sets in early. Teachers refused meals to some Dalit children, made them sit in separate lines in case they were being fed, made them wash the utensils after the children from the upper castes had eaten, and this one is priceless – children refused to eat  if the cooks were Dalits!!! What is it that makes us teach our children not to eat food cooked by people we deem to be lower than us?! What makes us higher or better? My children often beg a morsel off the driver, the cook, the maid, anyone they see sitting down to eat something interesting.

Speaking of discrimination - a bunch of hooligans burst in upon a church meeting in Mumbai and locking the room insisted that they should all chant Jai Shri Ram. Failing that, they beat them up. Is it just me, or is Mumbai reporting far too many instances of intolerance these days?

Although our neighbours aren’t behaving much better. Sikhs, Hindus and Christians are all fleeing their homes. Sad. Religious wars in this day and age. Makes me want to cry. Almost as bad as not touching pregnant women because they’re Dalits.

Dear Jarnail Singh

….I watched you hurl a shoe at Chidambaram last night and was horrified. Yes, I know you’ve apologised and I know you are aching for your community and that you don’t want this politicised but I just wanted to reach out to you and tell you that I was horrified.

Horrified that a journalist would behave in such a manner. And horrified that after 25 years you are still awaiting justice and sadly are reduced to hurling shoes.  It’s a sign of frustration and rage and impotence and I feel each one of them with you.

You see, a few months ago my community faced the same sort of distress - our churches burnt, nuns raped and community killed. No justice yet. The CMs of those states will probably be back in power – much like the CM who fiddled while Gujarat burned. The women and children raped and killed, the men massacred.

Of course we haven’t had to wait twenty five long years like you for justice but I have a feeling we wouldn’t have got it in twenty five years either.

We’re journalists, Jarnail. It’s our job to record, to expose, to use the might of our pens. Not to throw shoes. Because then there is no difference between us and them. Who them? Why those who we’re protesting against. Those who killed, burned and raped our communities. Those who think violence is a solution.

Can we do anything – yes, let us join hands and protest peacefully. You, me, those who burned in Gujarat – and show them that we will not stand for it. But we will not turn into animals like them either. We will not behave in a manner where people can point a finger at us.

I don’t know you Jarnail and being on totally different beats I doubt you and I will ever attend the same press conferences. But I’ll believe those who said you’re a mild mannered man. I hope you get justice, I hope you find peace… and I hope you’re never again pushed into a corner this way either. Until then, hold the shoe!

:)

Your comrade in pain…

MM

Edited to add: Have you guys seen this movie, The Invasion? There’s a line at the end where Nicole Kidman kind of heaves a sigh of relief when they realise the world is back to it’s usual program of rape, murder and theft. And a rather scary line where she points out that if we didn’t do any of these, well, we’d stop being human…. Your thoughts?

PS: Thanks Happy Karma for supplying me with the exact lines “In the right situation, we are all capable of the most terrible crimes. To imagine a world where this was not so, where every crisis did not result in new atrocities, where every newspaper is not full of war and violence. Well, this is to imagine a world where human beings cease to be human”

Scilla and Charybdis

So the world is up in arms because Hamid Karzai has legalized rape within marriage and made it illegal for a woman to leave the house without her husband’s permission. (Hey! We should send Manyata to Afghanistan, she admits to asking her husband for permissing before going out for coffee. She’d fit right in.) What kind of people are willing to accept such laws? What can they do about it? Do they fight it? I have no idea.

And we can get off our high horses because things here in India aren’t much better. Our laws mght be better but some of our people are so regressive that it seems pointless. This woman who was raped, has urged the court to release the rapist because she is afraid nobody else will marry her. So she asked her rapist to marry her and he very benevolently agreed, saying his family wouldn’t mind so long as she converted to Islam. Right. I wonder if he checked with his family before raping her. As for the woman – I wonder how bad life for her must be if the best option she has is to marry her rapist. I feel really really bad for her….

The mind does not boggle. It is simply exhausted by the state of affairs.

Fortunately the DCW has objected, saying that the woman is under pressure from her family. Imagine having to live with that sort of support or lack thereof, from your family. We do afterall, live in a country where you have honour killings and revenge rapes and victims committing suicide because of the shame of it….

So is there still hope? I mean okay, DCW objects and then where does this poor woman go?

What do you guys think?

What do I have to offer thee, Bean?

We bought a car last month. The Chevrolet Spark. (Cue for congratulations!) It was a crazy busy day with the kids coming back from G’Pa-Nana house and then rushing to office, then coming back, picking up the car and rushing off to drop Nana back on the train.

In all this, the car wasn’t celebrated as it was meant to be. No drive to temple or church, nothing. A friend asked me if we broke a coconut. No. Take it to church? No. But we got into the car and before starting, the OA and I closed our eyes almost on cue and said a little prayer… and then we were off. He dropped me home and rushed to a meeting in it. And that is how the new car was inaugurated. With love and hard work. Maybe this means the OA will do good business in this car. Fingers crossed. Do add your prayers to ours.

Don’t you want to teach your kids any customs and rituals and traditions, friends asked?

No. No, thank you. I don’t want to teach my kids anything that will become a cause for trouble later. I don’t want them to go through life believing that these are the important things. The things that must be done. That they must be done in a particular way. That a new car must have a coconut broken under a tire and driven to Church before any other place.  Because what starts off as a mere happy tradition is soon set in stone and the cause of war. Do good, be good and the rest is all just frills, IMHO.

The Bean turned 23 months on the 15th and I was just too tired to do a post. In a couple of weeks my daughter will be two years old. My gorgeous, feisty, intelligent, fun loving daughter with laughter that is music to my ears. And what is my gift to her? Life in a country where its okay to pull women out of pubs by their hair because they’re mixing with men of another religion. She is a product of that sort of a mixture. Her mother and father belong to two different faiths. They have moved so much beyond it to find commonalities. Hell, they don’t even get time to argue over such trivialities because they are so busy arguing over whether the Chevrolet Spark should be bought or the Hyundai i10. Whether it’s better to use a locker at ICICI or SBI. Whether the Bean should start school in March or April.

I have never been part of any community and blogging was the first time I understood what it meant to be part of a gang of people. One of the other times I have understood what it means to be a community is when I meet other couples like ourselves. Who think like us, who have discarded man made barriers of caste and creed to follow their hearts. To marry people they really like – not just because they happen to be of the same community.

The other day the OA and I were waiting in a queue in the bank and in front of us a couple were opening a joint account. They stood ahead of us and like us were discussing their day. The itinerary. Like the OA and me they argued over who locked the door. Whether the TV was left on or not and much more that I really can’t remember. And then as is normal at a PSU bank – the guy at the counter went off for a tea break. The queue broke and we all scrambled around his desk. And as I stood there sticking pictures and signing forms in triplicate, I noticed their form. He was a Mohd something and she was something Sharma. They were filling up forms for a joint account. I nudged the OA and grinned. It might seem rather pathetic, but we’re in such a minority. People like us. And then to hear that it’s couples like us being targetted – just breaks my heart.

When the OA and I were getting married, another inter-religious couple, friends of ours, were getting married too. Within days of their marriage notice going up in the lower court, they got calls from the VHP threatening to throw acid on their faces if they didn’t call it off. The OA and I promptly took our notice down and got married in my hometown.

I wish I could explain how low the whole incident brought us. As it is marriage is a huge decision and you have a 101 doubts as to whether it will work out alright. And when  you are marrying out of your community etc, you have so many more fears. When one or both sets of parents are against the union, it’s worse. And to then have someone totally unconnected – a political party  – jump into the fray and tell you that you’re doing wrong – just takes the cake. It hits too close home, it adds to your fears and it totally ruins what should be the most beautiful moment of your life. You step out of your home fearful of acid being flung in your face and instead of shouting from the rooftops about your love, you skulk around corners, looking out for attackers. How is it any party’s business whether I date a man from my community or not? Even my parents cannot stop me, as an adult, so who else really counts?

People watcher that I am – a few days ago I was waiting on the roadside when I saw a young college -going couple walk up to each other.  They came from two ends of the road and were walking towards each other. I saw them both and I just knew they were coming to meet each other. They smiled from across the road and as they neared each other you could see the sparks fly, stars come sparkling down and little flowers and hearts raining down on them. Well maybe not – but they may as well have been for all the love and chemistry you could see around them. To the exclusion of the rest of the road. They were in their own little bubble. And then as they met their bubbles merged and they went off together, without a word. And I could see why the Sri Ram Sene and the Shiv Sena want to break up happy couples. It’s good old plain jealousy. If you don’t have what these others do, you can’t let them enjoy it. With none of the charm or the finesse or youthful willingness to put your heart out there, with nothing to recommend them, these jobless, unloved, harsh young men and cranky old men, go around taking away from others, a pleasure they will never know. I see it, I understand where they are coming from, but I am damned if I will accept it.

So it is that, and the little matter of being a woman. For all that we love to hate each other, women across the world need to stand together. Stay together. Which is why despite being a teetotaller and a non-smoker, I stand by the rights of women across the world to smoke, drink, date men of other faiths and women too, for all I  care.

Friends who objected to the Pink Chaddi campaign wanted to know why women weren’t doing something bigger. Why not thrash those men. Because this is about more than violence. Its easy for these men to get violent. Heck – they are incapable of doing anything more than showing an animal like violent response. But how do I teach my child day after day, that violence is not the answer, if I myself take up arms and start beating people up everytime I disagree with the way they are going about something.

I was shocked to see women on other forums saying that while they disagree with the Sri Rama Sene’s violence – they believe that this is against Indian culture. Is culture not dynamic? Isn’t it made up of us? Are women not to decide what path they wish for their culture to take? Isn’t this just another form of violence against women that we so proudly say our country doesn’t experience? Someone left a comment a few days ago on my blog saying that they don’t want people to think that there are loads of young unmarried pregnant women in our villages. Well why not? It’s the truth. It may be a small percentage. But they do exist. As do sati, child marriage, female foeticide and infanticide. Violence has got to stop. Against people who choose to do thing differently to the way you do. Against people who are choosing to break away from something they don’t believe in.

Over the last couple of months the Taliban has been attacking school girls with acid. They’re lifting up their veils to disfigure their faces. Do their beliefs tell them its okay to unveil a young girl and attack her simply because she is getting an education?

A friend who sent me the link immediately after it happened, said – Thank God this doesn’t happen in India. No. It doesn’t. Maybe not the exact same thing – but the bottomline is the same. Five women have been attacked recently in Bangalore. Men attacking women for choices they are making. Men attacking women for walking out in jeans. Men attacking women for holding down jobs. Men attacking women for getting an education. Men attacking women simply because they’re women.

I want to catch all those sanctimonious auntyjis who believe they’re being very fair in saying – ‘Well, we don’t agree with the methods of the Sri Ram Sene/Taliban/VHP/ Shiv Sena, but do we really want our young women to sit around getting drunk at pubs?’ .. and shake them up.

Well, you know what auntyji? It’s none of your business what those young girls sit around doing on their own time and with their own money. And the day you tell some man that he has a right to dictate your choices (even non-violently), you’re walking down a slippery path. At your own peril. And he will attack you, even as you tuck your saree around your ample waist, get onto your scooty and head to your respectable administrative job after having made three meals for your family. Really. That day is not far.

Until that day…. I apologise my darling Beanie. You deserve so much more than this shitty state of affairs you’ve had the misfortune of being born into…

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Edited to add: I watched Dilli 6 last night. And loved it. It is an ode to Delhi and it’s always nice to see an ode to the city that has become your home. Coincidentally I was in the Delhi 6 area yesterday and it’s still awe-inspiring to wander through those lanes. Such a contrast to South Delhi with it’s flyovers, metros, high end malls and such.

I liked the movie. I don’t care what others have to say. I loved the song Rehna Tu. I loved it anyway, thinking it was a love song. And when I saw that it was a love song to Delhi – I loved it even more! The words so apt – thoda sa resham, thoda sa khurdara. There are so many movies that show Bombay at it’s best and each time I watch a movie that has even a teeny bit of Delhi in it, I am totally thrilled and jumping around in my seat! Yeah – star struck villager :D

I don’t know where the movie went wrong, but it held my interest till the end and what brought it home is the times we live in. The frustrations of traffic stopping because of a cow crossing the road (if not giving birth)! The religious disharmony the country is seeing so much of… and most of all – the mixed Abhishek Bachchan. At some point, someone in the movie yells out ‘Aye 50-50. And I was like – that’s it. My children. 50-50. Someday some bigot with his head up his arse is going to say that to my children.

Some asshole is going to tell my kids that they can’t walk into this church or that temple because they don’t belong to either. Which is why we rarely visit either. No significant event in the house is given any religious connotation and their identity and celebrations are mostly just all about fun. Sigh. Lets see how it goes.

No criminals in politics: New campaign launched

A nationwide campaign against criminals in politics, prompted by the nationwide outrage over the Mumbai terror attack, has been launched.

Backed by top corporate bodies like NASSCOM and FICCI, along with over 2,000 NGOs and alumni of IITs and IIMs, the campaign, ‘No Criminals in Politics’, will inform voters through an SMS (567678) feedback on the past criminal record of current MPs and candidates for the 15th Lok Sabha elections.
Launching the campaign, former Reserve Bank of India governor and chairperson of Public Interest Foundation, Bimal Jalan, said that of the 543 Lok Sabha MPs, 128 had self-confessed cases pending against them whereas 24 MPs had a series of charges of murder or attempt to murder to their credit.
Jalan said the aim of the campaign would be three-pronged. First, it would ask the political parties not to give tickets to candidates with criminal backgrounds in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
Second, it would apprise the voters of criminal antecedents of candidates in each constituency.
Third, it would request voters not to support political parties that field candidates with criminal charges anywhere in the country. The campaign would be carried out SMS and audio-visual tools.
The campaign, which has Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar, noted lawyer Fali Nariman and Rajya Sabha MP Rahul Bajaj voicing their concern against criminals in politics, will also include stars such as Aamir Khan.
“We saw a lot of resentment against the present political system. It was then that we professionals thought that the Lok Sabha polls would be the time to do something to improve governance in our country. It led to the birth of this campaign,” said R. Gurumoorthy, coordinator for the campaign.
“‘No Criminals in Politics’ is a step to make citizens aware of their right to vote. It is a campaign to alert them that they also have the right to demand for the right candidate,” said a launch statement released on behalf of 21 organisations, including the Association for Democratic Reforms and Jaagore.com.
Voters can register for the campaign through an SMS to 567678 or logging into the website www.NoCriminals.org.