Saturday, July 14, 2012

here there be beasts....

There are memories and then there are memories. Some you want to push away so deep that nothing can drag them out. No matter what. But then something happens and every one of them come spilling out.....and once it does nothing can stop them. Like the girl in Guwahati, the 17 year old that was molested while people watched. All day yesterday I followed the outrage on twitter. I decided it could not affect me but the thoughts stayed. Even this morning I fought what I have come here to write today. I played on the ipad, I cooked, surfed facebook till I got bored and still the thought will not leave me. So here I am, bear with me. 

I was a young girl growing up in Calcutta in the eighties. Calcutta was considered a relatively safe place. The people were supposed to be friendly and helpful, women were safe. I don't know about the women then but it was certainly not that way for young girls. In broad daylight young girls were pawed. And it wasn't like we were alone...our families were there. Coming out of a cinema hall, shopping on a busy street, walking down the Grand Hotel Arcade...nothing can erase that feeling of shock, horror, humiliation and revulsion we felt. And you turned, amid a sea of people the hand was lost. Just a grab...yes yes, maybe that innocuous looking man, that older one shuffling the time you turned, or raised an alarm, all there was were people walking away!And raise the alarm sounds very simple, no? But not for a young teenager who suddenly feels awkward and alone. I used to huddle close to my dad, making him wonder why I suddenly clung onto him. (not that that was a guarantee, these hand have a snaking characteristics, but yes, it made me feel braver!). It took me a while to tell my dad because I thought he would not believe me and I thought there was  something wrong with me!!!!!!
But then I learned early enough that this was something that happened to all girls my age, anyone who dared emerge from the safety of their homes and cars, that is. Anyone who was remotely trying to be woman enough in a man’s world.
And the horror of travelling on public transport! Sure enough on a crowded bus there are always some men who lean towards the seats reserved for ladies. (my friends and I used to call them 'leftists' because the ladies seats used to be towards the left of the bus!!!!). Oh yeah, we learned to laugh. And we learnt to cope. I took to carrying safety-pins in my pockets. Any unwelcome hand that came even close got a sharp little prick. I learned to keep my eyes on myself and not gaze out of the window. I learnt to be alert. Maybe I pricked a few innocent hands too but no one  ever complained and I was past caring! While walking on the road I developed an unique "duck walk" which meant anyone who got close got a shove of the elbow. Years later, as a young graduate when I first went to Court I occasionally took the bus, the rules had not changed. Even now the elbows help me on the road. And in a crowded elevator those elbows come in handy again. No I do not take the bus anymore, but when I walk on the road, I do the elbow trick without thinking. Its part of who I am. I've learnt to protect myself. But I have noticed something else too. These people, they do not prey on older women. They pick young girls. Girls on the threshold of puberty, young unsuspecting teenagers, these are their targets. Two years ago my daughter came home crying. She had gone out to the stationery shop with the maid and  someone had touched her. She was 10. I raged. I explained that she had to be careful. She had to protect herself and be alert. I told the maid that she too has to be more alert. Since hen my daughter is wary. She was telling her younger sister the other day that when she walks on the road she has to keep her elbows out! It fills me with sorrow that this is something we learn so early. 
But why? Why is it like this? 
In India we call the country our mother. We worship the female form for strength and virtue and bow down at her feet. Why, then, this utter disregard and disrespect for the female? Why do Indian men turn predators on the street? What perverted pleasure do they get? These questions have no answers. And no place is safe. Even in a crowded temple. Yes, that very place where people come to worship, for peace, for sanctity, even there. Is it any wonder that each time the word "temple" comes up, I have a bitter argument with my husband? I firmly believe that God or whoever It may be does not reside there! No way. 
Does it have to be this way? 
I can't see things changing not until the man on the road undergoes a sudden and miraculous sea change. In attitude, in thought, in action. Not unless the male is taught to respect women. But how do you expect that in a country where female foeticide is practiced  even in so called well-to-do 'educated' families, where the birth of a male child is hailed and daughters-in-law turned out of their homes because they gave birth to a girl? And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The discrimination is everywhere. Each time a girl is singled out and commented at, each time a man follows a young girl or brushes past her, each time a little girl is asked to fetch and carry for her brother "kiyun ki woh beta hai"! 
I hate bringing up my two girls in this environment. I look around me, I read the papers and I am frightened. Very frightened. Thankfully their home and school environment is healthy and complete. But what when they leave, their homes, their schools? I am fearful for them, I teach them the best I can and hope they too shall learn to cope. 
The rest is darkness.

Friday, July 6, 2012

While the cat is away.....

Now like any pati vrata Bharatiya naari, (husband loving Indian woman) I am entirely devoted to my husband and constantly endeavoring to make life more comfortable for him. I do not disturb him when he's working (except maybe to remind him that my credit card payment is due!) I do not tell him to drive me to the market so I can do my shopping, I do not buy jewellery. I do not expect him to hold my hand when I cry or even expect him to visit my mother!All in all I am a very undemanding wife.
On the other hand, my world centres around him. Rushing home, planning dinner, seeing to the girls studies, ensuring he has his medicines, ensuring that the clothes are ironed and no one makes a noise when he's sleeping, little things, I know, but I'm nice like that!
But I have this little secret that makes my life whole and keeps me from falling apart. I love it when he goes out of station. I have my own little holiday, my me time. Like yesterday for instance. Hubby went to Delhi for some case. As soon as I heard the day before, my heart said "yay". I happily packed everything he would need including the medicines in little pill boxes and looked appropriately quiet as he left.
I made no dinner. I didn't even tell the maid to make anything.  The girls quickly finished studies and started communing with the TV. We dreamed of biriyani and then settled down to having 'wai wai' for dinner which was consumed by me off a big plastic mixing bowl in front of the computer and washed down with a rum and coke! I played on the ipad until I began to think a trip to the loo could be accomplished with a simple swipe and watched all the stupid stuff my daughters watch on TV. After they went off to bed I watched some more mindless TV! Then I went to my room where the girls were sleeping and turned on the PC and sat and read (almost) every status update on facebook and twitter. I BBMed a girlfriend late into the night! And before I finally slept I cuddled my daughters till they started squirming in their sleep! Morning came, I woke up feeling refreshed and relaxed (after all it IS Friday!), made no tiffin but gave the girls some lunch money instead. I had two cups of tea (something I never do) and harvested strange crops in my smurf village. I listened to music while getting ready  and I drove to Court catching up with Bollywood trash on the radio. I listened to every word of "munni badnaam hui" and "Bodyguard" and marvelled at the ingenuity of the song writers! And now I'm back home after listening to some more nonsense on the radio! And the spouse returns tonight but in all probability it will be too late to go to either of the two formal invitations we otherwise would have had to attend!!!!
Good fun, I say! A good time-out.

Now I gotta go. Make sure there's food on the table while I wait for hubby dear to return!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

By special request: ITC hotels photography competition.

I rather fancy myself as a photographer. (Don't you?) Holidays, there I go, click-click camera on the ready. Even on occasions at home, be it my daughter's birthday, my brother in law's wedding, even the occasional get together family dinner. I specially loved photographing the girls when they were small. (And that was the age before digital cameras so it wasn't all just click and delete if you don't like it!) And I like to think I'm pretty good at it too.... Having said that, I am not happy about lugging a huge camera with multiple accessories around. I was happy with my Sony cybershot or even my BB camera and milked them for all it was worth. So to me, a photograph contains a memory, a moment in time: it would be good if it is also pleasing to the eye but one does not need a fancy shindig bazooka-like thing to take photos. We are not shooting for the National Geographic Magazine. Nor are we entering a photography contest here!
Or are we?
I was recently contacted by Neha Jain from ITC hotels regarding a photography contest currently being held by ITC hotels and she asked me to post a blog on this. Now a few lines are okay but I don't do endorsements. But then I sat and thought about it and remembered how much I love ITC. Or rather, the food at ITC. Just thinking about their kakori kebabs or biriyani makes me want to grab my purse and land up at Dum Pukht right now! A promise of their Christmas lunch buffets have me starving for three days in advance! And my favourite place is the Westview Bar and Grill, not only do they not allow children (wicked) they serve an amazing selection of grills, in fact just the thought of a baby octopus grilled with garlic and butter has my tummy rumbling!
Having said that, ITC is not a place we indulge in often. It's reserved for special occasions: prices aside, we do not want it to become "just one of those places". Specially for the girls. You see what I mean? So every, or rather, most occasions at ITC have been special. I have memories of the place. Flaming B52s and crepes Suzette. The cheese platter and the suckling pig! Our anniversary dinner followed up at Dublin. The yard glass at Dublin (sadly, they do not do it any more, last I went) Seeing Adam Gilchrist, Gautam Gambhir, Brett Lee and others during the IPLs(my girls were maha excited....!), taking "special guests" out for dinner, a birthday here, an anniversary there. But sadly, most of those memories are in my heart. I have no digital images, except for that of a cousin accidentally blowing up a glass of flaming B52 in her face! (Heh heh!)
So there goes. There must be others like me here. Come on, if you're reading this. Dig up those old pics, join the contest. It ends on July 15, so do hurry. Here's the link:

For some unforseen reason, if the link is not showing up, try copy pasting this on your browser:

Me? I'm just gonna sweetly ask my hubby to take me out for dinner to ITC this weekend, just to take photoos!!!!