March 03, 2016

Turning into an insomniac

Seriously, I am supposed to be sleeping now. And try as I might, I simply am not able to soothe my mind to sleep. Last few months have been very, very restless. So much so, that even though no less than 70 odd drafts sit in this blog, waiting to be finished, and some 50 more thoughts would have captured my attention strongly enough to translate them into ideas for more posts, I hardly published anything in the last 3 months. Guilty conscience... writer's block.. whatever the reason might be, I simply could not bring myself to complete any post, and the most I could do was extensively rework a few drafts. At this point, I really need to thank those of you who have persevered enough to still come back to this page, despite the prolonged inactivity. And more so for bearing with this rant, as I have no idea as to what exactly I am trying to convey through this post, except that I know I am blabbering randomly out of sleeplessness. Besides, there is not much that I can do at this hour. I sincerely hope I publish this post before I fully read it - I will never publish something like this if I do read it critically.

Just now, I almost considered discarding this post before I almost considering hitting Publish button instantly in the fear of adding to the list of unfinished posts. See, THAT'S the thing: It has been like that almost all the time in the last couple of months, with everything - not just blogging. Just when I brace myself to start afresh on any piece of work, I work myself into inaction out of restlessness about challenges and consequences. It happens often. I become frigid to block myself from everything, restlessness included. And I am close to turning nocturnal now. At times, I simply can't sleep, and today, I found myself to be Googling 'How to make yourself fall asleep' and 'How to avoid restlessness'. And I ended up whiling away some more time not sleeping and not becoming any closer to falling alseep. None of the online tips helped of course, because mine is a problem of lack of will than that of knowledge. I know all those tips already, and I did try deep breathing, emptying my brain of all thoughts etc., but some things are easier said than done. The source of restlessness is something which I can't do much about, and thinking about it is only increasing it. Sometimes, waiting periods can be cruel, but I guess it all boils down to how you can handle uncertainty.

And now, I was almost close to discarding this post again, because the guilty conscience is in operation, and is drawing my attention to the clock ticking away with. This again, is also something which has been happening almost all the time of late. When I am doing anything I enjoy, I feel restless about other important things which are due from me, and I again become inactive. As a result of this futile inaction on anything meaningful, I end up whiling away my time on random things which just keep me occupied enough to not let me think or act, like reading Harry Potter. I really should not be saying anything against Harry Potter books: they have been my faithful companions during tough phases. I hope they will get me out of the blackhole this time too.

Anyway, my mobile battery is running out of power, and I have ranted enough. Thanks for reading till the end, and sorry for boring you with what can be surmised as inadequate, unsolicited excuses for not blogging regularly, and for not giving you a good post which I am sure you were hoping for. Honestly, I really care about you as a reader so I do promise to either be more regular in future or publish a better post next time (it's too ambitious to promise them both together, and I firmly believe in 'Under-promise, over-deliver'!).

I missed this space so much, it's hard to stop the rant! Good night...

November 21, 2015

Around the News

I share similar views as surmised in the quoted excerpts:

1) On the IS Attacks - Link by Melissa McEwan from Shakesville

// ...The attackers, whomever they may be and whatever their motives, went after the heart of progressive Paris. They did not attack the more touristy Champs-Elysées or Notre Dame, or the more bourgeois and conservative left bank, where most of the government ministries are located."

The reason for that is clear, from IS own literature: They are seeking to "destroy the 'grayzone' of coexistence between Muslims & [non-Muslims in] the West." They want to provoke non-Muslim Westerners into Islamophobia and violent retribution, and force non-radical Muslims to choose sides. //

// My sincerest condolences to those who have lost family, friends, neighbors, and/or colleagues in the IS attacks. I am so sorry. I am so sad and so angry for you. My sympathy to everyone in the communities which have been terrorized and continue to be terrorized, as well as to Muslims—and Sikhs and other people presumed to be Muslim—who will be targeted for violent retribution, for something they did not do. //

Please go through the full article: Link

2) Appropriation of Bihar - Link by Heartranjan from Heartranjan's blog

// Now suddenly, everybody wants to talk about Bihar. People who haven’t been to the state even once, have no idea what it was bifurcated into, or even the names of the parties contesting. Today, everybody wants a piece of Bihar. And the entire discussion is from two view-points.

1. Those who feel Bihar committed a gigantic mistake because by not voting for Modi. Which automatically means they didn’t vote for BJP, which automatically means they don’t want development. //
// The second opinion is of the kind I’d generously typecast as the ‘liberals’, which sadly, has been reduced to an anti-Modi brigand. // // You think the Bihari voter gives a fuck about your issues? Have you lived in Bihar? Apart from stopping Modi, does anything else about the election affect you? To cheer for Laloo Prasad Yadav, the poster boy of bovine corruption puts in question your support all along for politics free of corruption and dynastical politics. //
// Bihar has its own issues to deal with. Appropriating Bihar to fill the colour of the lens you see the world with, doesn’t amount to jackshit. //

Please go through the full article: Link

November 18, 2015

B.I.T.C.H. Diaries - 1


'Damn all the bra straps! Damn all the bras!!', Madhoo muttered to herself, as she rushed into the nearest loo in the airport to adjust the length of her bra strap. She just got out of a 2 hour flight where she suddenly realized half-way through that her bra strap was hurting her back pretty badly. Left with no choice but to wait till she finds some private space to remove her bra and put it back on, she spent the next one hour cursing whoever was being popularizing bras and recapping some of her bra problems...

She first started wearing bras when she was in high school. She was introduced to the concept by one of her busybody aunts who advises everyone on all that is about their well-being and her business, a certain class of relatives one can never run out of in India. To be fair, her aunt had been nice enough to take her shopping and help her out with picking her first bra. Back then, she found it exciting for a while as she was at the start of puberty. But as age grew on her, the proverbial 'fascination is short-lived' idiom turned out to be true and she started discovering all possible annoyances that can be manifested through bras.

For one thing, she almost always managed to buy the wrong size, and it took her years to learn and detect when she should revisit her measurements. As she thought of that, the hurt in her back reminded her that the time has come for her to go bra-shopping again. For another, she has tried all versions of them: the padded ones, wired ones, lace ones, backless ones, front open designs, stick-ons - you name the model and she would have tried it from a range of brands, only to discover the flaws in each one. Most of the bras she purchased spending good money turned out to be nightmares and she knew she would be staying miles away from the wired ones after the wire in her most expensive inner came out and cut through her skin once. Finally, age has made her wise enough to realize that somethings just don't work for you however fancy they may be labeled as.

It has been two years since she overcame her apprehensions and completely stopped wearing bras at home. And she ruefully wished for a day when women don't have to feel any compulsion to wear bras when they go out. True, they do help in making one look sexy, which is useful at times, and often make you look better, but then, they are really not worth it, once you consider all the trouble. Besides, there are other aids to help you look sexy...

Giving a sigh of relief now that she has adjusted her bra strap, coupled with the happy thought that she can be bra-free in an hour, Madhoo headed towards the cab counter along with her suitcase. As soon as she got into the cab, she texted her parents that she landed safely. That reminded her that it has been a while since she visited her parents. Too many things to plan... And she switched her thoughts to the fun she had over the weekend. It has been an amazing trip. She got some really good girlfriend-time which was much-needed. She bought three new dresses, went through all the new additions to each of her friends' closets, and lazed around for one whole day chit-chatting and venting out with her friends, an activity she has always considered to be therapeutic. She then wondered about what she was doing to do for dinner when a nasty thought cut through her mind: She has to go to office the next day...

P.S.: This is my first piece of fiction. You are one of my first-readers and are special to me. I would really love to hear what you think of it. Please do comment.

August 30, 2015

Understanding feminism, sexism and sexual assaults III: Saying 'yes' doesn't mean a blanket sanction to any sexual activity

Indianhomemaker posted this as a guest post (link) on her blog (link). I am resharing it here.

A Guest Post by Freebird.

I don’t think consensual sex which doesn’t involve any coercion should be treated as rape at any cost. So I find the statement ‘I said ‘yes’ but it was ’emotional rape” very contradictory.

But what I didn’t understand, and do find disturbing, is this:

// I nodded. But it was an unsure nod. I was still thinking but he started acting on it before I could know. Nobody could stop him from there. He undressed me and complemented my body.

He asked, he didn’t force himself on me. He was brutal and really wild but since it was my first, I didn’t know it was not supposed to be like that. There was no romance. He quickly got into me and enjoyed my painful shrieks. He didn’t kiss my forehead as in the movies. I couldn’t gather what was happening to my body. It was being twisted and twirled like a rubber band. I was in pain, I told him but he didn’t care. My lips were bleeding, my shoulder had a mark, I was suffocated by the weight of his body but he just didn’t stop. // - link

// Just a nod costed me my happiness. // - link

In this story, why didn’t this girl ever realize that it was OK for her to say ‘no’after saying ‘yes’? Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean a blanket sanction to any sexual activity. It is perfectly right to set boundaries, or ask the other person to stop when she was getting uncomfortable. If he was hurting her and she was in pain, why isn’t it clear that she had every right to tell him to stop hurting her and not engage in things which were painful to her? And the moment this message is conveyed clearly and if he still carries on, it does become ‘rape’ (not an esoteric ’emotional rape’). Whether it can be proved or not is a different issue. That doesn’t change the fact that it is rape when the other person is violating your boundaries.

August 12, 2015

Taking a short break

Hello everyone,

I am a little too caught up with some important stuff, so I guess I will most probably not be posting anything during the next 3 - 4 weeks. I promise I'll be back as soon as possible.

Till then, cheers!!

July 26, 2015

Reflections from a Modern Indian Kitchen IV: South Indian meal finally

I been craving for good South Indian meal since a while: It is particularly hard to find good Andhra food in Mumbai. Finally, I decided to take it upon myself to make it happen. And so, today, I made a four course meal consisting of rice with toor dal chutney, ivy gourd fry, tomato dal and raw banana - curd chutney. We were in such a hurry to binge that I forgot to take pictures )

I am quite happy with the raw banana - curd chutney. The recipe I used is easy to follow and hard to go wrong with:

1. Remove the skin of the raw banana (I use knife and not peeler). Split it into four vertically and cut each split piece into 2 - 3 inch pieces (Don't bother with the size for this recipe as it is eventually going to be mashed).

2. Boil it in some water till it is fully cooked and becomes soft (I pressure cook it for ease, adding a pinch of turmeric in the water to remove the raw taste - I do this for most vegetables and dals when I pressure cook).

3. Grind the raw banana pieces with two medium length green chillies*, 3 tablespoons of curd and 1 cup water. The consistency should be slightly more diluted than tooth paste, so adjust curd or water accordingly.
*The original recipe calls for frying the chillies - But I've seen my mom add green chillies to chutneys directly and found that they taste better this way, so I skipped that step. You can choose either of the methods.

5. Chop a medium sized onion to small pieces and keep aside.

6. Heat oil in a pan and add half a spoon of mustard seeds. Once they start spluttering, add a pinch of asofoetida, a pinch of fenugreek seeds, half spoon slit urad dal, half a spoon chana dal, a couple of red chillies (split), curry leaves as per your preference and fry them (Technically, you shouldn't add them all together, but if you stick to adding the ingredients in this specific order, it is fine). Fry them till you see the dals beginning to turn golden brown. Immediately add the chopped onion* along with a pinch of turmeric and fry till it browns in color.
*Onion is my own addition because I love fried onions in pretty much every dish. You can also add chopped ginger instead to make this taste interesting.

5. Add the curd - raw banana mash to this and take the pan off the heat. Add salt and coriander leaves to taste and mix well. Serve with rice.

If you ever try it, tell me how it turned out.

July 22, 2015

Women in the novels of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens

I am a die-hard fan of Jane Austen, and I came across this very interesting paper comparing the characterization of women in Austen's and Dicken's novels: link

If you are a fan of Austen, I strongly recommend reading the full article. This author puts in words very beautifully as to what makes Austen's work so endearing to us.

Sharing some excerpts (again, I recommend read the full paper, it is worth the time): link

// My big battle with Dickens is that I find so many of his women characters neurotic, yet to Dickens that behavior is the ideal. He approves of, even demands, neurotic behavior. His ideal young woman is self-sacrificing in the extreme. She is allowed to have no thought for herself, no desires, no ambitions. // - link

// Austen is ironic, observant, witty, able to depict young women whose manners and mores may be different from ours, yet whom we should enjoy and recognize as fellow human beings if we met them. Dickens is sentimental, overwrought almost to hysteria in dealing with the relations of the sexes. Despite the freedom awarded him as a man, despite his marriage and family, he seems more inhibited (or twisted) than the spinster Jane Austen. // - link

//  It is refreshing to find, in Pride and Prejudice, that Mr. Darcy at first considers Elizabeth Bennet merely “tolerable.” He is attracted and disconcerted by her wit and lack of the deference to which he is used, and moves from admiration for her “fine eyes,” to finding her “one of the handsomest women of his acquaintance.” In Persuasion, by the time Captain Wentworth returns to the scene, Anne Elliot is no longer young and has “lost her bloom,” a very Jane Austenian description. He falls in love with her all over again as she reveals her sterling qualities under stress (and a little because another man admires her). With his love, her bloom returns, to the reader’s satisfaction. // - link

July 16, 2015

Dedicated to the love of my life

Sometimes we fight, sometimes we are moody
But we still laugh and reconcile in the end
As we know we're meant to be together forever
Sometimes we don't like the same things, and we disagree
But we'll always like each other, 
And our principles will never differ

Sometimes we act possessive and feel jealous
But we always set things right, 
Because our trust is hard to break
Sometimes we are cranky and may say hurtful things
But we always know that it is not intended, 
And feel terrible about it later

Sometimes we're busy with other work, 
And we don't get to talk for days
But we always make time,
When the other one is in dire need
Sometimes we go through bad times, 
And things around us fall apart
We'll always find reassurance in each other

Sometimes we change to become different from what we are
But that doesn't bother us, 
Because we understand it is for the better
Sometimes I wish I had a cocoon wrapping us
So that I can bury myself in the warmth of your affection

We'll always keep ourselves happy by keeping each other happy
Because we cannot bear it when the other one is sad
We let each other free because
We know that we'll always come back
And can never belong to anyone else
We're free thus and belong to self
And yet we own each other

We'll always love each other because
It's the real love - the kind of love we know
It's not the incomprehensible fairy-tale love
We see, we understand, we know
And we still love each other...
The kind of love which is not blind
It is the whole and lasting kind
Which is not in parts or distorted in lies

Together we've embarked on this journey
Not in assurance of living happily ever after
Because we know we'll face hurdles in life
But we also know that we'll have each other
And we'll walk through the spines and bristles together

I love you because...
You love me so much!!
You make me feel beautiful
You make me strong
You let me think, you help me judge
You make me do the right thing
You own me by letting me free
And letting me realize than I can belong to no one else

July 14, 2015

Institutional misogyny watch: Part I

Dear Govt. of India,

Your bigotry continues to perturb and baffle me.

On the one hand, the Indian Constitution which you are expected to abide by, declares that every Indian citizen, irrespective of gender (and caste, creed, religion, color etc.) has equal rights (link). It also states justice and equality on political, economic and civic fronts as its objectives. Going by this, I would think that I, along with all women ought to have the same rights as men on all fronts. I would expect your administration to curb gender discrimination and promote equal rights for everyone, through word and action, as this is your stated responsibility.

On the other hand, the laws which are supposed to be based on the Constitutional objectives keep sending mixed signals (link, link, link). You continue to draft and uphold these laws which fall short of these objectives. Also, time and again, you keep contradicting these objectives, by legal, political and administrative means. Different members of your administration have proved on multiple occasions through their words that they have absolutely no idea understanding of their responsibility to uphold my rights (link, link, link, link).

But then, I am confused because some of you keep using words like 'women empowerment' to win elections (link, link). I am not sure if you do this because you think it is a fashion statement to talk about women's issues to gain popularity, or if you really understand what 'empowerment' means and the need to uphold it. It looks as though you are trying desperately to convince women that you are on 'their' side. But often, your words and actions do little to advance your professed cause (link).

I don't understand how you intend to accomplish your professed and designated motto of ensuring gender equality without even making the necessary legal amendments for it. I am failing to comprehend why you would continue to uphold the Muslim Personal Law which is replete with gender bias (link). Your system has failed in delivering justice to Muslim women (link) and administering basic rights granted to them by the Constitution (link). Their voices are unheard and silenced (link), and decisions about laws which are supposed to govern them are made without taking their views into account (link). Under the guise of granting religious freedom, their religion is interpreted taking into account only selective, prejudiced views (link) which are forced onto the rest, ignoring the views (linklink) of the oppressed half.

I don't understand the affected outrage and concern over sexual assaults and female foeticide expressed often by some of you. Some of you seem to be concerned about female foeticide because men don't have enough wives to marry (link). I don't know if you really understand that female foeticide is inhuman and it violates women's right to be born on the basis of gender. Because if you did and if you promoted gender equality the way you ought to have, why would you uphold the patriarchal values which are at the root of our culture's preference towards male child (link, link)? Why would you recognize and encourage patrilineal practices (link) by providing tax benefits for those who uphold them (link)? How exactly is penalizing me for being a woman and legally de-recognizing me from my maternal family, empowering, and how does it translate to equal rights for sons and daughters* (link)?

Coming to sexual assaults, given the statistics of sexual assaults in the country (link) and the horrific treatment with which victims have been meted with by your systems (link, link, link, link, link), we can all safely conclude without much debate that your administration has 'failed' to guarantee me safety at par with men. This is where I am confused again. I think I have the constitutional right to live a life with dignity, and you have the constitutional obligation to ensure this, without encroaching on my right to personal freedom. But you have failed me not only through a passive lack of action in ensuring my safety, but also through active defense of potential assaults against me (linklink). Let alone advancing real support to survivors of sexual assaults, your systems have done more harm than good by imposing constraints on my liberty (link, link) and defending potential crimes against me (link, link). Why are depriving me of my right to live with dignity, by insisting that I am to be treated as a sex slave for my husband, and giving legal sanctions to marital rape (link)?

If you really understand empowerment, you wouldn't insist that my primary identity must always be defined in relation to another male and ask for husband's or father's name on official forms (link). This makes me makes me feel like a second-class citizen. You wouldn't insult motherhood by defining only father as the 'natural' guardian of a child (link). I was happy to notice that my pension form included transgender option which is really something to celebrate about, but what disappointed me was that I had to fill my father or husband's name. This kind of condescending attitude does not make me feel empowered in anyway, I assure you.

You continue to not hear my voice, and pretend to carry on with your charges. I am calling for your attention not as a favor, but because I believe that I deserve to be treated with dignity like all other human beings, and also to remind you of your obligation towards me, and half the population. And to say the least, I am disappointed in your failure to fulfil your responsibilities. I think it is high time that you started walking the talk.

Yours sincerely,
A distressed Indian woman whose rights you have failed to uphold

*The Hindu Law defines the HUF (Hindu Undivided Family) as a family, which consists of males lineally descended from a common ancestor and includes their wives and unmarried daughters (link).

Note: Institutional misogyny refers to the discrimination against women on a systemic scale, stemming from the deep-rooted biases about gender which are internalized in our culture. All my future posts which call attention to this will be tagged with the label 'institutional misogyny'.

P.S: This is my fiftieth post, and I actually had something else in my mind for this one. But the HUF (link) topic came up today (with the ITR deadline coming soon), and I had to write about this. The other draft has to wait.

Related posts:

1. What happens when we allow legal sanctions for marital rape: link
2. Its 'rape culture' not 'tribal culture': On the West Bengal: link
3. So why do I write against gender discrimination: An interaction with a reader: link
4. When a woman talks about her sex life as her choice, patriarchy's control over female sexuality is challenged: link
5. I am a woman in Indian society and I am not yet free...: link

Recommended reads:

1. Gender inequality in the Hindu and Muslim Personal Laws in India: link

June 22, 2015

What happened to the women who graduated from IITs in the 90s?

Sharing this amazingly researched article:

What happened to the women who graduated from IITs in the 90s?: link

I could so totally relate the findings from it with what Sheryl Sandberg had to say in Lean In - Women, Work and the Will to Leadlink (another recommended read) and also with what I have witnessed in life personally.

Sharing some excerpts from the article - I sincerely recommend reading it in entirety - link

// Yet, often after a few years on the job, they pulled back, completely changed their personal career paths, thereby stripping corporate India of a female presence. Again and again, women gave Quartz the same underlying reason: They were unable to scale the maternal wall. // - link

Because there is no support system to ensure that working women are not penalized for motherhood, either at work place or at home (because of the reinforcement of gender stereotypes):

// At Adobe India's office, she found the work environment way less flexible and accommodating of working mothers than it had been in the US. // - link

// "I think the major deviation in career trajectory comes after having kids... I could spend the day at work but not put in additional evenings and nights or weekend hours to continue a steep trajectory that some of the men who chose to could do" // - link

And why could these men always have the choice of affording to put in weekend hours and additional nights? The answer lies below - Quoting from the same article:

// Indian fathers still leave most of the childcare to their wives, these women also told Quartz. // - link

// There are three crossroads in a working woman's life: When she joins an organisation, when she has kids and when wants to transition to a senior leadership role, Singh told Quartz. Firms will continue to lose talented women, if they do not support, mentor and motivate them during these stages // - link

Also sharing some statistics and observations from a World Economic Forum report (link):

// India’s gender chore gap, the difference between the amount of housework done by women and men, is the largest of any country for which data is available, according to new figures compiled by the World Economic Forum. // - link

// Indian women end up doing very badly in paid work and one of the reasons for that is that they are spending so much time in unpaid work,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of the gender parity program at the WEF and one of the authors of the report. // - link

Recommended reads:

From News Laundry - An article by Madhu Trehan:

1. We Let This Gen Down - link

From Indian Home Maker's blog:

2. Why do men NOT have to choose between being a CEO and a father, but women have to make this choice - link

3. Society benefits immensely from childbearing, childrearing, and caregiving work that currently goes unpaid. - link

4. How are mothers treated in Indian culture - link

5. Women you are not doing anybody a favour... - link

More from Quartz:

6. India's most famous stay-at-home dad still has to answer questions about his salary - link