Genius Limericks for “Young Ladies”

My friend Monidipa has written five brilliant limericks illustrating and protesting the state of women in general and queer women in particular after the Supreme Court of India decided last week to keep Section 377 on the books for now. Section 377, for the uninitiated, was penned by young master Macaulay, and criminalised all intercourse that was against the nature of man, woman or beasts. In other words, he criminalised not-heterosexual intercourse amongst humans, and all cross-species congress, gender notwithstanding.

In an interesting aside – and a commentary on mass ignorance – people lauding the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a colonial law think they’re “protecting Indian culture”, when ancient Hindu texts, of course, records ample instances of queerness, including the carefully-worded description of the relationship between Lord Krishna and his friend Sudama, the cross-dressing warrior Shikhandi, the king who was pregnant, and the life of the great masculine hero Arjun of the Mahabharata, who spent ten years in drag, earning his living as a dance and music instructor.

But here are the lyrics, the lovely little gems you’re here for. I’m quoting them in the order I prefer reading, saving the best for the last.

There was a young lady called Son
Whose parents had but only one
Offspring – not male;
Inconsequential detail;
They thought she was lesser to none.

God bless those parents – my parents, in fact. The “culture” of son-preference is a poison that goes far beyond the insidious idea of choice, and results in thousand of foeticide and infanticide the world over. It doesn’t help when we read reports of first-world parents preferring daughters over sons, because little girls are more docile and obedient and easier to “handle”. 

There was a young lady called Mister
Who might have been somebody’s sister,
Girlfriend or wife,
But she chose her own life,
So all of the people dismissed her.

Where have we faced that before? Right. ‘most everywhere.

There was a young lady called Dude
Whom boys at the school found so lewd
They ripped up her skirt,
Smashed her face in the dirt
And advised her not to be rude.

This has become so normalised that for a fraction of a second, the irony didn’t sink in. That’s right, even for someone who has faced violence for looking at a man straight in the eyes. That’s hegemony for you… thankfully just for a second.

“There was a young lady called Sir.
We heard from her angry neighbour
That she had been cravin’
Some three seventy-seven.
We closed in before she could stir…”

Think of this as a report from the local police, dedicated to keeping you safe. Unless, that is, you want to live outside the books of anachronistic sexual propriety.

And finally, my favourite, and a damned statement of existence for so many people, pushed to the margins and living through it all, because hope is brave like that.

There is a young lady called Man
Who will hold out longer than your ban.
She has stared at the face
Of your curse and your grace –
You have done to her all that you can.

Stench of the Uniform, #2

This is a remembrance special for Human Rights Day 2013, to show how safe and happy we are in the world’s largest democracy.


Right, so I promised victims of similar violence I’d write about my run-in with the cops while working on this. It wasn’t anything major, and apart from brief moments of panic and a dull throb of helpless rage for about half an hour after, my colleague and I played it pretty cool, I think. So it was about two thirty in the morning, and ‘our’ car (the smaller car, usually an Ambassador or a Maruti, for the only two performers who lived in north Calcutta) had just dropped me off at my apartment gate and was starting up to turn 180 degrees and go out of the lane my house is on when this patrol car pulls up in front of it, a bunch of uniforms get out and block the way. I was still climbing the stairs when A, my colleague, called me. “Hey, the cops are not letting us go, could you get your dad down here to clear the matter up?”

“Sure”, I said, and ran up to our apartment, to see both my parents in the balcony, looking down. “I’m going down to sort it out”, I told them, dumping my bag but grabbing my purse which had my ids.

“No, don’t! Cops…” began my mother instinctively, but stopped herself mid-sentence. “No, I mean, wait for Daddy to put on a shirt and go with him…”. I was already on the second staircase down.

Now, the one thing I should mention here that because we had the entire floor to ourselves and didn’t have anyone watching us, none of us bothered to ‘dress for work’, as it were. We mostly went without even basic jewellery, wearing chappals and jootis, an old skirt that hadn’t been worn in three years, bermudas, faded tees, track pants and a top with frayed hems and in one desperately yechhy case, the same bleeding outfit for three months (I remember Sue describing this person to her friend as ‘a white zombie warmed up in the microwave’). So that particular evening, I was wearing a long skirt that can be comfortably gathered around if the AC was too cold with a blue peasant top of thin cotton, and A was wearing a halter top with pink track pants. These details are important, so keep them in mind.

Right, so she was already out of the car by the time I was down again, arguing with the cops. The driver sidled up to me. “Please medam, West Bengal Police hai, aap please kuchh mat boliye, who medam to baat nahin sun rahi hai… West Bengal Police bohot denger hai medam…aap thanda kijiye unhe…” (“Please madam, this is the West Bengal Police, don’t get into an argument with them, the other lady isn’t listening to me…West Bengal Police is big trouble, they’re dangerous, please calm them down…” and here I might as well add that the general local consensus in my neighbourhood is that if you’re in trouble, stay away from the WBP. They’ll make it ten times worse and convince you that you deserve it.

The last phrase of calming the police down did make me think fleetingly of what the driver was hinting I should do, but only fleetingly, because one policeman planted himself in front of me suddenly, and demanded to see my ID. I had my university id card, but A didn’t have a photo id. Anyway, they barely glanced at mine. What they did do was confiscate it. The sub-inspector who took my ID casually bent his head, leaned inside the patrol jeep, and put my ID card o the dashboard, out of my reach. A definite threat.

“So, your id?” he asked me idly, like this little episode of card-snatching hadn’t happened.

“The one you kept there, you mean?” I asked, calmly pointing.

He didn’t even look in the direction. “Let’s see the id, then”, he drawled in Bengali, holding a hand out. “So that’s your game”, I thought. And all thought of making nice left my head. Between the two of us, A is a bit of self-styled desperado, and while it hardly ever shows, I’m trouble too. And I detest bullies.

“Come on!” snapped the man, impatient.

Just then, my dad made his appearance, stage left. “Ki hochhe?” he asked. What’s going on?

“He’s playing cat and mouse with us, he thinks.” I drawled, deliberately in English. I do excellent arrogant drawls. Wrong move, you say? Well, yeah, in a manner of speaking, but you cannot be prudent all the time. It was a quarter to three, we were bone tired, hungry and sleepy and five sordidly unattractive men who wanted our money were checking us out, lingering on my breasts and A’s belly button. Apart from everything else, there’s a wrongness of principle in leering at women you intend to extort.

“Who’re you?” asked the sub-inspector rudely, clearly not happy to have an adult male in the happy company. Young unescorted women dressed ‘inappropriately’ at three in the morning – I imagine he thought his walkover game was about to be interrupted.

“My father.” I said, not removing my eyes from his face. “My id card.” I held out my hand. He chose ignored that.

“Daughter?” he asked, with as much disbelief and scorn as he could put in a word. “Really?”

“Yes”, said my amiable dad. “What’s your problem exactly?”

“Let’s see your id.”

“It’s upstairs”, said my dad, indecisively, looking up at my mother in our balcony looking anxiously down.

“Fine, let’s go upstairs.” Said the bastard, making a gesture of movement.

“Absolutely not.” I cut in. “I’m not letting a sub-inspector without official documents to come anywhere near my house. The question doesn’t arise. And I’d like my ID.” I grinned nastily. “Please.”

The guy looked like he’d refuse, but then he reached in and brought out my ID card. I jerked it out of his fingers and stuffed it in my purse.

“Right, so, sir, how long are you planning on keeping me here?” yawned A. “We actually have work to do, so I need to go home and sleep.”

“Yeah, sure,” said the cop. “I suppose your kind of work is rather tiring, coming home this late at night…”. Applause, ladies and gentlemen, for the wit in the house.

Meanwhile, our project coordinator was in Goa on holiday, phones of other important numbers were all switched off, so finally, I got another colleague – male—on the phone, instructing him to act like he was the project coordinator. It didn’t work, of course. Because nothing was meant to. We were accused of being prostitues, basically (there was this extremely tiresome verbal speed-volley where the cop just shot off questions at Daddy, Aditi and me – “who’s she?” “who’s he?” “how do you know he’s her father” “how do know she’s your daughter?” “what if she isn’t your OWN daughter?” – yeah, the last two were asked, and the former was asked thrice), either coming home or arriving at a client’s place, and of course our quaking driver was our pimp, and therefore the it’s the righteous cops’ RIGHT to bleed us dry and fuck us in the bargain, if they can. Or gang rape, if he and his ‘patrol’ were into that sort of thing. A nice little warm up on a winter’s night.

Finally, my mum couldn’t take it any more. She called me on my mobile. “Tell them I work for SR”, she said. “Let’s see how they deal with that.”

I did. Not outright, of course. The cops were anyway getting edgy, since apart from yawning in their faces, we showed no signs of cowering, or more importantly, parting with our cash. So, suddenly galvanized, the sub-inspector called the three constables – all stinking of strong country liquor – and asked them to “get these ‘madams’ in the jeep”.

“I’d like to see you try”. Said A, bristling. “Touch us, and you won’t…”

“One minute”, I said. Turning to my dad, I said, “So, since there seems to be no way out…let me call SR, then…” Daddy picked up the hint. “Yeah, wait, even better…I have AN’s direct number…”

Now, as smart readers have figured out, AN, who is SR’s relative, is the local rep of the ruling party in the state. The cops are his lapdogs and part of his election machinery. And local elections of some sort were either coming up or just over. The iron was still hot.

The rest, they say, is the tale of a tail securely inside the crack of a cop’s arse. The guy went from suspicious to full of futile rage to leering threats of “these girls come to us sooner or later…we’ll pick you up some other night” and slamming their jeep door shut.

“A,” I said loudly, “get in the car and get out of this jurisdiction. We’ll keep them here for a while. And don’t hesitate to call if…”

“Sure” Said A. “See you tomorrow. Oh, sir, we’ll be coming home at around this time, perhaps later, tomorrow. You’ll be on duty, perhaps? See you then.”

I leaned on the jeep’s bonnet, setting the alarm in my phone for the next afternoon, when I’d get up and bathe and eat hastily and leave for work.

“Is this the decent time for women to come home at night?” said the now-petulant cop. “If you didn’t mention AN, I swear (here he looked at me with malicious yearning) I’d have picked them up for the night. For the police station, you know.” And he smiled a lecherous, yucky smile and deliberately, it seemed to me, licked his lips.

By then A’s car had a five or seven minute head start, so we – my father and I – walked in to our building and climbed up to our apartment. The jeep revved a couple of times, then the cops were gone.

Should I tell you the truth, though? Beneath all that cold contempt and all that cockiness, I was terrified. Had we not had AN’s name to toss about, what would have happened to us, do you think?

Talkin’ About the Stare

This evening, calmly withering looks from a friend and me completely quelled a man staring rather invasively at her.

I don’t like the idea of legally policing stares, because that way lies subjectivity hell, but when someone’s stare makes me uncomfortable, people should get used the fact that I shall inform him of it, and not too gently. If I hear the ‘But he was only looking!’ apologists whine about my ‘feminist hysterics’ about the poor man, and should men just blind themselves now, they shall be apportioned generous portions of the same. I have my mouth, the same as he has eyes. If he can look at me, I shall talk to him. If you’re going to attend a charity jackathon in support of the former, the latter shall, by logic, automatically have your support. Tough, eh? Welcomed to the concept of equality.

And as a PS, do you know what the concept of equality doesn’t apply to? My subjective freedom to treat the stare as welcome, if I like the looks of the person doing the staring and if I consider it a stare of non-threatening interest. That’s how mummy and daddy got started on making you, so don’t bitch about it just ’cause the hot men and women didn’t pick you.

Girly Power in Book Week Scotland 2013 Quiz

This quiz has been doing the rounds on my social media circles the last few days – a book personality test released for Book Week Scotland, 2013 (take it here). The root may or may not be true – I’ve learnt not to trust much of what circulates via a quick “like” or “share” – but hell, it’s a booklovers’ quiz, so I thought I’d take it anyway. And hey! Look! A bot with simple checkbox algorithm thinks I am Aragorn! Whoopee-dee!

With your decisive and fast-paced approach, you are an asset to any team or rabble of hobbits. Your personality is quite unique with your rare blend of self-drive, assertiveness, confidence and competitiveness.

Like Aragorn, your ability to see the big picture and strategise while directing and motivating others make you a natural leader even if you don’t feel ready for it. At your worst you may judge others harshly and not consider the emotional impact of your decisions, but your slighted followers will soon feel inspired again by your actions.

Queue up to the left, buddy. I’m recruiting an army! And then we’ll go on an adventure!

Here’s the interesting thing though. I only got Aragon because I am a canny little liar, and chose “male” as my gender at the beginning of the quiz. Because I knew, just knew, that a personality matching quiz which asks for your gender (and limits it to two choices) is going to sort your results by it. Which is to say, you’re not going to get the fictional character you’re superficially closest to, but the one you’re superficially closest to that matches your gender. And that which exists in their Anglo-centric archive, of course. And I was right, for when I took the test as a female person, my result was Batgirl. No just a lot less sword-swinging cool than Aragorn, but also less definitive, as is the fate of many side-kicks (and some heroes, like the Green Lantern) in the comicverse.

I mean, look at her arc. First, she’s Betty Kane, aspiring to be all wannabe crime-fighter, the better to snare herself Robin while Aunty Kathy ensnares Batman with the “similar interests” hook. In her next avatar, Batgirl is Miss Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. This is a more “empowered” version of the character – she stands up to an authoritarian Batman when he tells her to quit ’cause she’s a girl – but is still essentially his female version. In real life, she has a PhD in library science – the lords pinch me awake – and after a successful stint at an enormous and prestigious library, moves onto the House of Reps. Quite the achievement, but declined decidedly male, especially in the US. And then in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, she’s shot in the spine and becomes wheelchair-bound. Good work that, Alan, Mr. Anti-establishmentMoore. The token powerful chick gets it first. How very revolutionary and anti status quo.

Also, look at the language that the Scotland Book Week people, who doubtless love Batgirl and mean well, use to describe her. In contrast to Aragorn, who may have leadership thrust upon him even if he feels unready, because he is such a charismatic visionary, Batgirl is a natural leader because of her “competitive nature and fast-paced, decisive approach” which “programmed [her] to excel and succeed”. Somehow, that’s a lot less endearing – and humane – than a charismatic team-player who becomes leader by popular choice. He is solid stuff, while her words have the feel of a pushy, ruthless automaton. And they’re both fine things to be, except it’s sort or irksome to be made to feel so different about the exact same qualities with a tiny switch of gender. And that’s not even counting the cincher, which goes: “Friends and colleagues may find you over-bearing and aggressive. You’re programmed to excel and succeed and may ignore the emotional impact of your decisions. However, you’re Batgirl – enough said”. No fluff about slighted followers being re-inspired by her actions. It’s all take it or leave it, her way or the highway, cry in your own time you little wimp, bang bang!.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that this narrative of a successful female person – be she a politician or a librarian with a doctorate – is really a patriarchal appropriation of female empowerment simply because it feels like a man has simply been taken out of the story and a woman inserted in it… a slightly dehumanised and unlikable woman, because the people putting her in the story were not quite sure how to depict power and success in a female. Well, I suppose I am suggesting that. But what I’m suggesting more than that is that canon being as patriarchal as it is, and our current paradigms of behaviour being a little less gendered than that, perhaps a forward-thinking school of bibliophiles shouldn’t predicate their fun little personality tests on gender, and if they absolutely must, include a little footnote that says “Sorry the female characters are generally a lot less bitchin’ than the male. History made it that way… but we’re working on changing it!”

As Arthur Dent discovered all those years back, or forward, it does a body good to be said sorry to, even when said body has been dipped in a sodding mess, and left marinating there.

Plus, and this one’s for readers and writers both – folks who each hold up half the bookworld sky – it would be nice if awesomeness in fiction came packaged female too, and queer and trans and in some way disabled, instead of almost uniformly heterosexual majority-male. It might help people decide who they are like, or more importantly, who they’d like to be, based on the actual personalities, and not a little gender matchy-matchy. Of course, a girl might wish to emulate her fictional make hero’s distance-pissing skills and fail miserably for lack of appropriate appendage, but the point is that she at least try, and not be discouraged from such attempts by the idea of a lack. It shouldn’t be hard. After all, people like me abound – female and minority and abuse-survivor and mentally a little dented. I’ve met tonnes of them, and plenty other sorts besides. But alas, we seem to have passed most published authors completely by, for books about us are still the sub-genres, never the canonised mainstream.

Which is not to say boy-books are bad. Boy-books are great! I grew up on boy tales, although mostly because there were very few girl tales, or all-of-us-in-it-together tales, and it was wonderful to read about the exploits of interesting and quirky male central characters, weak and strong. Partly because I people like that in real life. I could totally relate. But all around me I also saw interesting women and girls, and occasionally the “different” boys and “different” girls, and yet they were nowhere to be seen in the books and comics and shows I had my head perpetually in.

And this was a problem, because it sort of warped my sense of reality for a bit. Never seeing these people acknowledged in books and television, or hearing their “oddities” talked about, I began to believe that they must be a little bit made up. Especially those bits that didn’t fit. This was ignorant and sad, but also sort of inevitable. After all, I encountered television and my books every day. I didn’t encounter difference all that often. Indeed, while I thought of my temporary lack of curiosity unfortunate, I realise now that there was a much more dangerous undercurrent to most of social encounters with difference. For those clearly at a disadvantage, such as the physically challenged, there was merely some malicious teasing, and some casual pity. For others, though, especially the gender queer and “uppity women”, there was a sentiment that the desire to be deliberately different shows disruptive intent, and disruptive intent must be quelled. For the greater good.

Let us take a minute to reflect upon where such sentiments might lead.

So, in conclusion, and returning to the matter of an otherwise inconsequential little quiz at hand, let us quickly summarise why the most ordinary and harmless things get my goat every now and then. One, because they’re indexes for a society so resistant to change that in its production of culture, it remains stubbornly, hysterically stereotypical, and blind to a diverse reality. That sort of thing gives people ideas, you know, because versions of reality in productions of culture are so much more attractive than the messy, non-conformist, discomfiting really-real world. And those sorts of ideas running about unchecked can produce the kind of ideas-blitz that leave ALL of us knee-deep in things a lot less abstract. It’s not pleasant. And two: as sensible (and rare) as a desire to have universally clean knees is, inclusionary cultural production shouldn’t stem from just that. It should stem from a genuine desire to be nice to people. I’m quite the snarling hell-hound sometimes you know, when I’m provoked and such, but generally, I absolutely thrive in being lovely and helpful, because it makes people relax and be sweet and helpful back, and where’d we be without self-affirmation and sunny good cheer in these days of poverty, drudgery and being tossed to the wolves? Dosed-up and gritty-teeth and road-ragey, that’s where. So the next time you see a person you want to instinctively smile politely and move on from, perhaps try a social contact? A little warmth and friendship? And then when you’ve known hir well enough, write a book about their special view of the world. It’s very likely you’ll make dozens of people clasp it to their chest and say, “Damn, that person’s just like me… finally!”

Stunning Dino-Bird Fighting Off T-Rex

Marriage really does a number on you. Suddenly, you find you’re (a) fully briefed on Arsenal’s strengths, weaknesses, schedule and scorecard, (b) eating more grilled meat and salads than comforting daal-bhaat, and (c) watching dinosaurs on YouTube.

Yes. We watch a lot of dinosaur videos. Don’t ask me why, it’s probably not healthy for me to reflect upon it. BUT, the good bit about strange fascinations is that I get to trawl the ocean of interweb videos and share the gems… so you don’t have to. So here goes: first fave on the dino series, Oviraptorid — a fabulous mix of flamingo and dino — fighting two T-Rexes and smaller winged dinos off his or her eggs.

Oviraptorid1Silly small oviraptorids approach giant nesting O.

Oviraptorid2Aaaaand are duly chased off! Rawwwr!

Watch the whole melee here: . It’s fun!

As an aside, though, these people flooding my lovely dino documentaries with creationist bollocks and “who would win the dino face-off???” comments? Where DO they come from? Maybe we can petition the US government to bomb that land first?

For Justice, Avoid Law Enforcement

This story was shared on my FB this afternoon:

Goan locals assault abductors and would-be gang-rapists of minor schoolgirl, and then assault policemen who try to protect the rapists. Well done Colva! Please do it for the women who visit your lovely state.

It came with this link:

It takes a great, great deal of abuse to get over the sense of alliance and protection society has taught us to expect from law enforcement, but as a woman who has grown up in South Asia, I would say that if you want security, stay far, far away from the police. Even if it means swallowing assault and rape, or harassment or robbery. The police my glorious nation will instinctively protect the criminal, for the criminal will pay them heftily for a cleared-up record and no consequences for their crime. This is especially true if the victim of a crime is a woman, a social minority, or an unconnected poor person who cannot pay the police even more for a semblance of protection (justice does not exist).

So if you were assaulted or raped or molested and want justice, land what punches you can. Because if you bend your feet stationwards, the first thing the cops will do is see if they can get away with a quick cop and feel. Or they’ll call you a slut, and disregard you entirely. Because ‘sluts’ are ‘asking for it’, don’t you know.

That’s the sort of world we live in.

‘Servants Can’t Rape’

Or so the sentiment appears to me.

My FB buddy Siddharthya posted this tweet from Madhu Purnima Kishwar, who is the director of the Indic Studies Project, housed in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. In other words, she’s an academic, and a self-proclaimed feminist. This is the tweet:

I feel safer among men of conservative values and villages who establish “didi” “mausi” relationship than among Leftists, westernized males and others who preach equality.

Of course, Kishwar may have been quoted out of context, and indeed this may not have been meant as a denigration of ‘Leftism’, westernisation, or gender equity or urban, ‘modern’ men at all. Neither was it meant as public entertainment, which is sadly what it is (for a given section of the public). We are probably reading it wrong.

But it is an interesting statement nonetheless. Because, y’see, if we agree for the sake of shutting dissenters down that Kishwar did indeed mean what she appears to mean in this tweet, then she is far more in need of a re-acquaintance with ‘leftism’ and ideas of equity than victims of gendered violence are in need of her wisdom. The reason she feels ‘safer’ amongst village-folk who establish didi/mausi [sister/aunt] relationships with her, after all, is because she is an urban upper-middle class ‘connected’ academic, possessed of far greater social capital than them. She bears all the markers of prestige that upwardly-mobile Indians (or Indians who wish they were upwardly mobile) wish for themselves and their children: a degree-enabled education, fluency in English, possession of a ‘government job’ [read: security, pension, allowances, perks, possible path to power], a city address in the nation’s capital. Consequently, provided she doesn’t ruffle feathers too much, she’s less of a generic woman for these men (and women) she mentions, and more of a figure of consolidated power, and a conduit to all those elements of prestige. Why should they then treat her with violence and scare her off?

Of course, had there been no rural-urban divide between them, no socioeconomic gradient, I doubt she’d have felt this cuddled and secure. She would then have been at par with them, and her ‘modernity’ would then no longer have been a distant aspiration for her rural neighbours, but a possible index of her outsider status.

It is this same illusion of safety, born of the belief in the ‘simplicity’ and ‘loyalty’ of the little people that leads people-like-us, for example, to have resident domestic help that they bother to find out very little about. After all,  poor ‘village people’ may be conservative and loud and ‘unsophisticated’, but they’re also sweet and meek and obedient — and hardworking, and not ambitious and lippy and money-grubbing like these urban bustee chaps. When we go to the villages, they just come running out to greet us, ask after our families, do so much of our work for us! When we leave, we give them hundred rupees each, and they’re SO happy with it! Really, to experience pure humanity, you must go to our villages!

Of course, this imagined innocence and confidence doesn’t stop the occasional domestic help from slitting throats, and making off with the cash and kind she or he is surrounded by and made to serve each day, but never allowed to access. A point, I think, that supporters of ‘ye olde Indian culture was cosier than global modernity’ would do well to consider.


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