The Woman Who Sold Us to Australia

“Virat Kohli has shown time and again that he is capable of great cricket. But a man’s skills can hold only for so long against the malicious influence of an unlucky woman. Think about it: every poor performance of his has happened in the presence of Anushka Sharma. Coincidence? I THINK NOTTE!

Team India should give Kohli an ultimatum: either break up with this woman, or we will kill her. NH10 style. Anyway, I don’t think their castes match.”

– The Stupid in India

City Chicks in Sarees

It happens a lot less than people would have you believe. Once, young women moved from their babyhood swaddle straight into sarees, worn around the knee with the aanchol or pally wrapped tightly around the waist. Then there came the intervening modernity of dresses, but most Bengali girls still graduated to the saree fairly young, and once there, didn’t switch loyalties for the rest of their lives.

Now, I’m surprised if I see one person below forty in Bombay’s streets wearing a saree. The times, they have a’changed. To be fair, though, there’s a class element to the city-saree. Most of the cleaning ladies in my neighbourhood wear sarees. Their employers seldom do. Is it because sartorial modernity is considered the premise of the better off? Would employers raise their eyebrows if their maids suddenly turned up in something as innocuous – and eminently Indian – as the salwaar-kameez, much less something a little more ‘western’? I haven’t had the chance to find out. However, I have noticed that one can get sarees for much less than a salwaar-kameez set, and certainly a pair of trousers and a shirt. So perhaps the cleaving to the traditional, though enforced by one’s cultural capital and form of labour, is also perhaps propped up by one’s financial capability.

This sudden nattering about sarees has been brought on by the #100sareepact. Did anyone else know about it? Now, I don’t even own a hundred sarees, and given that I mostly work from home lately, I doubt I’ll wear the ones I do have. But this sounds like a fun project, and so I think I’ll participate by adding old pictures of myself in sarees. Because memes are for modifying, right?

weddingmorningsaree

This is today’s picture. It’s my wedding morning, and I’m wearing an inexpensive red-bordered golden-yellow saree bought specifically for the messy wedding-morning rituals. This saree was a yard too short for my generous frame, so first we tried to make do by wrapping it a la Mumtaz, with a tiny pallu. That didn’t work. So then we unwrapped the whole thing, and began the first wrap from the back, instead of the front. This time, it was draped to all the adult women’s satisfaction. There’s a lesson in this process, and it is this: flaws hidden are flaws acceptable, as long as the show goes visibly on.

As people familiar with Bengali/Indian weddings will know, there are two throne-like chair at every wedding venue, one for the bride and one for the groom. They are usually overstuffed and damned uncomfortable. However, since I was doomed to spend the rest of day demurely adorning this chair, I spent the morning making damn sure the chair knew who was boss.

Indian Christians on Hit List?

There’s an interesting piece by Julio Riberio, former IPS officer, in the Indian Express today. He calls it the response of a retired public servant “in the twilight of my life”, to the recent steps taken by the central and right-wing state governments, as well as to their inaction in recent instances of horrifying incitement to violence against religious minorities. Yogi Adityanath – a fine example of the kind that pretends to be the protectors of ‘Hindutva’ – has recently called upon his supporters to dig up corpses of Muslim women and rape them. On a less immediate, more legislative level, he promises to snatch the voting rights of Indian Muslims, and make them second class citizens of the ‘Hindu rashtra’, much as Hindus in Pakistan are second-class citizens of the Islamic state. Meanwhile, Harayana is considering passing a law that would equate the slaughter of cows to first degree murder, to considerable support from urban and rural ‘Hindu’ sections.

Deviating from current western norms of rhetoric against religious aggression, Riberio has no compunction identifying himself as a Christian. And that is what makes his piece particularly strong, in my opinion. His very adherence to his religious – and therefore also to a large part his cultural – identity underlines the important role religion still plays in Indian social life, while also demonstrating that it has not, till recently, come too much in the way of everyday modernity.

Here are the most illustrative excerpts (in my opinion), but please read the whole article here.

[After the shooting that killed Indira Gandhi and clashes ensued between Sikh separatists and the State] a Christian was chosen to go to Punjab to fight what then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi termed “the nation’s battle” against separatists. I had accepted a “demotion” from secretary in the Union home ministry to DGP of the state of Punjab at the personal request of the prime minister. Arjun Singh, the cabinet minister who personally escorted me by special aircraft from Delhi to Chandigarh, remarked that when my appointment was announced the next morning, the Hindus of Punjab would breathe more freely and rejoice.

When 25 RSS men on parade were shot dead in cold blood one morning, then Punjab Governor S.S. Ray and I rushed to the spot to console the stricken families. The governor visited 12 homes, I visited the rest. The governor’s experience was different from mine. He was heckled and abused. I was welcomed.

Today, in my 86th year, I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country. The same category of citizens who had put their trust in me to rescue them from a force they could not comprehend have now come out of the woodwork to condemn me for practising a religion that is different from theirs. I am not an Indian anymore, at least in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra […] “Ghar wapsi”, the declaration of Christmas as “Good Governance Day”, the attack on Christian churches and schools in Delhi, all added to a sense of siege that now afflicts these peaceful people.

Christians have consistently punched above their weight — not as much as the tiny Parsi community, but just as noticeably. Education, in particular, has been their forte. Many schools, colleges, related establishments that teach skills for jobs have been set up and run by Christians… Hospitals, nursing homes, hospices for dying cancer patients needing palliative care — many of these are run by Christian religious orders or Christian laymen devoted to the service of humanity. Should they desist from doing such humanitarian work for fear of being so admired and loved that a stray beneficiary converts of his or her own accord?

I was born in this country. So were my ancestors, some 5,000 or more years ago. If my DNA is tested, it will not differ markedly from [Mohan] Bhagwat’s. It will certainly be the same as the country’s defence minister’s as our ancestors arrived in Goa with the sage Parshuram at the same time. Perhaps we share a common ancestor somewhere down the line. It is an accident of history that my forefathers converted and his did not. I do not and never shall know the circumstances that made it so.

Victimising the Good Men

There has been a lot of noise in India lately about the banning of BBC’s India’s Daughter, forcing the house to release it virtually on YouTube (which promptly blocked its viewing, at least in India). NDTV, a channel that was originally supposed to air the show in India, registered its protest of the ban by keeping a still image of the documentary’s title on its screen for the entire duration of its run-time, while messages condemning the ban flowed steadily in the footer.

Naturally, there’s another side to this. Certain self-identified feminists have supported the ban, claiming the documentary would only serve to encourage more violent crimes. Others have claimed that the documentary tarnishes the image of all Indian men, reducing them to the (colonial) stereotype of the brutish pervert. There was even a poorly-doctored series of emails on Quora yesterday, ‘confirming’ that such stereotyping is now a global phenomenon, encouraging sexist and racist discrimination against bright young Indian males, innocent of any crime. [UPDATE: further developments in that matter here.]

This morning, I saw a more personalised take on the matter on Facebook. Here it is:
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It breaks my heart to disagree, but disagree I must.

My school was a little more than an hour’s commute by bus from my home. I began to be regularly groped when I was in Class 4/5. And by ‘regularly’ I mean every time I was on the bus. This continued till highschool, by which time I had become an expert in stealth war, standing on a molester’s foot and then lifting the other leg off the bus floor so all 50 kilos of me was crushing his toes. I was also groped by uncles, friends of the family and my own ‘enlightened’ friends – although naturally not all of them.

It incenses me that someone might want to stop the exposé of our culture’s pervasive sexual repression, perversion and gendered entitlement – that has plagued me and my friends/classmates from when we were too young to understand what it was that was pressing against us in a crowded bus – because of the off chance that it might make the wonderful men in their lives look bad. I mean, I have a father who did a lot of the ‘maternal’ raising of me when I was a baby because my mother had to be at work by 7AM. My husband surpasses every single goddamned expectation a woman can have of a man who loves her. And I still will not yield to protecting the reputation of the Indian patriarchy.

One, because men who step out of their traditional gender privilege – not as a special favour, but as a way of life – are no longer part of the problem.

And two, because Indian patriarchy is so far from deserving such protection, that the horizon isn’t distant enough.

Rescued Gems

The following is an excerpt from legendary big-game hunter and animal-lover – the two are not necessarily a contradiction in terms – JimCorbette’s “Robin”.

I never saw either of his parents. The Knight of the Broom I purchased him from said he was a spaniel, that his name was Pincha, and that his father was a ‘keen gun dog’. This is all I can tell you about his pedigree.
I did not want a pup, and it was quite by accident that I happened to be with a friend when the litter of seven was decanted from a very filthy basket for her inspection. Pincha was the smallest and the thinnest of the litter, and it was quite evident he had reached the last ditch in his fight for survival. Leaving his little less miserable brothers and sisters, he walked once round me, and then curled himself up between my big feet. When I picked him up and put him inside my coat—it was a bitterly cold morning—he tried to show his gratitude by licking my face, and I tried to show him I was not aware of his appalling stench.

He was rising three months then, and I bought him for fifteen rupees. He is rising thirteen years now, and all the gold in India would not buy him.

Accompanying illustration, Kaju as a baby, new to our home.

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A Photo Essay on Destruction

We had a lovely guest for dinner yesterday. In his honour – and in an effort to keep face-licking off our mehmaan nawazi – we allowed the dogs to romp unsupervised in our bedroom, while we socialised civilly inthedrawing room.Electrified by the sudden free rein in this otherwise-forbidden room, the dogs went absolutely wild. This is the state the bed was in after our guest left.

D1

My partner saw this mess while I was clearing the dishes (we dropped by a few times in between chatting to check on the dogs). To prevent further damage, he put the dogs in the bedroom balcony, where to also hang our laundry to dry.

Once our guest left, we opened the door of the bedroom… and saw the dogs looking damned pleased with themselves.

D2

Of course, Kaju immediately made an effort to get to us, but alas, the window of his jail was too high.
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Shorshu, of course, thinks it is déclassé to try and rescue herself. She issued bird-like warbles, indicated she would like to be rescued from her undignified perch, and cuddled for her troubles.

D4

Finally, after I let them both out of the balcony after half an hour’s detention, Shorshu immediately jumped onto the destroyed bed and curled up, like it was her goddamned right.

D6

While Kaju posed cheerfully for the camera, proud of his evening’s efforts.

D5

So much for lessons learnt.

Live-in Ruins Careers

This is one of Markendya Katju’s least popular recent social media commentary. And that’s encouraging, because in India, people are still harassed and assaulted for the ‘indiscretion’ he counsels against here.

Screenshot of former Supreme Court justice Katju's Facebook status.

Screenshot of former Supreme Court justice Katju’s Facebook status.

This is the link to Katju’s status about withholding a deserving name from nominations for judgeship, because the person lived-in with a female lawyer, and socialised ‘openly’ as a couple. His reason? “Indian society is largely still conservative, and largely still does not approve of live in relationship, though it is not illegal.. While lawyers can have live in relationship, it is as yet not ethically permissible to Judges [sic].”

Well, here are responses from some of his followers. They are rather heartening, even if they reflect only the top, tech-savvy fraction of the urban and suburban middle-class. The country is certainly changing, if slowly and in patches.

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