Lakshmi- Feminism? or not?

I believe that movies are a great medium to talk to the masses. Of course, it is a one-way communication mode, but it makes us think. Powerful stories with the apt background score and cinematography can create magic on screen. Short films are no less effective than feature films.

My post is about the short film, Lakshmi, and its widespread discussion in the social media.

The movie is about a woman in a sad marriage and her thoughts. It doesn’t stop with her thoughts, it manifests in her actions too. At least for a short while. I am not spoiling the movie further, please do watch it here. (It has subtitles too!)

So a few of my friends tagged me in one of the discussion pages where the movie was being dissected beyond the normal level of human comprehension. I mean, it is a movie. It could represent the societal realities as much as it represents the overhyped and unrealistic aspects. But a few comments alarmed me. When did this become anything related to feminism?

Nobody questions when a man cheats on his wife, but why is the hell breaking loose when a woman does the same? asked one of the ‘feminist pages’.

From what I saw, this had zilch to do with feminism or the absence of it. The movie was about abusive marriage and infidelity as a tool to set off such abuse in the marriage. How is it even justified? The last I checked, two wrongs do not make one right. Just because one person in the marriage is abusive, it is not a license to indulge in an extra-marital affair. It does not address the problem. It creates a new problem for the couple.

Individual freedom is a different concept from relationship rules. Any relationship revolves around an unsaid charter, I feel. There are points classified as Green, Yellow and Red light ones, signifying the acceptability of each of them. The red ones are the deal breakers. What I don’t understand is that why is everything linked to feminism these days? So much that the mere term scares even the well-meaning people off.

I personally felt that if one is in an abusive marriage, one must either talk and sort it out or walk out of the marriage. The individual frustration is not a good reason to cheat on the significant other.

In fact, the movie left the crucial bits to the audience to conclude. So the views might change according to the way each of us perceived those crucial junctures. I liked the movie for what it is though. It made me reflect on the ideals of a relationship.

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A Glimpse of the Past- Dakshinachitra

Faint notes of ‘Saamajavaragamana’ struck me, when I stood at the reception of Dakshinachitra to buy an entry pass. This krithi in Hindolam is by Saint Sri Thyagaraja, who lived in the 18th century A.D. The fragrance of agarbaththis wafted through the air, bringing with it the scent of Arali (Nerium) flowers. All these eased me up for a laid-back walk inside Dakshinachitra.

Dakshinachitra is nothing like a conventional museum. The absence of glass-covered artefacts and long corridors can confuse anybody. Reconstructed traditional houses from the four south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh find their places here. Dakshinachitra is a walk through the memory lanes of our ancestors and the lives they lived.

Checking my pass in, I crossed over a small archway, to see the vast expanse of land. Huge canopies lined up along stony pathways. A tiny market made its presence felt, thanks to the bling that were up for sale.

All the old houses that are replicated in Dakshinachitra are bought from the contractors who are assigned to demolish them by their owners.  More often than not, the owners want a modern house in the places of these old houses and hence sell them off.

We do extensive research on the background of the house and its people and try our best to recreate it here,” says Sharath Nambiar, Deputy Director of Dakshinachitra.

My favourite was the Chuttillu House, which sadly is placed at the fag end of the trail. Found in the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh, the structure in Dakshinachitra was specifically from Yelamanchilli, Vishakapatnam district. These houses are made of mud and circular. They have thatched roof that extends until the ground, in order to drain off the water, from the incessant rains that the storms bring. These roofs are built at an angle of at least 45 degrees to drain the rainwater away. The round shape of the building is to combat the raging winds, which are usual in the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh.

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The Chettiar house from Tamil Nadu was another memorable piece.

The term ‘Chettinad’ denotes the region Pudukottai, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu. Trade was their main occupation and it reflected in their lavish lifestyle. Polished wooden interiors, which kept the temperature inside the house in check and a collection of expensive articles that were given as gifts during their weddings vouched for the prosperity of the Chettiars.

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A typical Chettiar house has a long thinnai , which is the porch at the entrance of the house and an inner open-roof courtyard in the middle of the house. The thinnai is for the men and outsiders to meet and talk while the courtyard is for events that are more intimate. It is the sacred space and is designated only for family members.

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The Syrian Christian house is characterised by the woodwork, mostly with timber and jackfruit wood, the well in the kitchen and long verandahs. The polished, dark brown wooden walls were attractive and gave a rich texture.

IMG_20171026_114309These houses had huge granaries too, which were built immediately at the entrance. The Syrian Christians used to pray in front of their granaries and hence their houses were built to store huge quantities of food grains. Their settlements were concentrated in the districts of Kottayam, Kollam and Aluva, mainly in the valley of the river Pamba.

Karnataka is a state, whose history is rich. From the mountainous regions of Coorg and Talacauveri to the heritage of Hampi, it has it all. The exhibit of the Chikmagalur house told the story of its original inhabitant, a Muslim trader named M.A.Ismail. The house’s special feature was the patterns in the doorways and windows made of fine limestone. Houses in Chikmagalur are built with varying grades of limestone, found in abundance in Karnataka. The most coarse grade would go to building the base of the building while the finest will be made as floral patterns over doorways.

Chikmagalur was populated by Muslim traders, credited for bringing the art of perfume oil extraction from Arabia.

On my way out, I stop by Nambiar’s office to ask about the loud voices that sang the basic notes of Carnatic music all along.

“We work with a lot of folk performers and expose them to various other styles of dance and theatre,” he says.

Dakshinachitra is also planning to hold thematic exhibitions and environment awareness programs to school students who visit the place. I take a quick walk inside the craft shop and being broke, started on my way back home, with loads of memories and pages of heavy notes.

*Dakshinachitra is located on the East Coast Road (ECR), very close to MGM and is well connected by bus.

Perspectives- #3 Chris Huntington

All of us go through rough times in our lives. We battle it out, every time as if that is the last ever battle we fight. Sometimes, we feel tired and let it pass. I am reminded of this quote by Robert Frost that I used to tell to myself during tough times.

The best way out is always through

It is also true that every person who crosses our lives teach us something. It could be something simple or major, but they do it, knowingly or otherwise. It is on these lines that this post talks. The post is about a person who goes to a prison to teach the inmates and ends up learning a lot from one of the inmates.

The author shares his angst as a parent, who has adopted a son. He expresses his sadness on the fact that the boy would grow up oblivious to his own culture and roots. There is this truth that though the boy is better off with the author in terms of material wealth, he would still lose the old charm of his native. The author seems to realise this truth, which is surprising. In a time when people migrate in search of better material lives, not shying away from forgetting their roots, this author ponders on the value lost. It was fresh and strange to me, both at the same time.

We all have seen or experienced brain-drain at some point or the other. We also have this raging debate of our native languages dying out without anybody bothering to save them from extinction. It makes me think how much is all of it worth? Are we turning more selfish as days go by? Are we just bothered about ourselves and our families? Somewhere in the equation, aren’t we losing out on the bigger picture? I am not sure. These remind me of a poem by Bharathidasan, that I learnt during my high school.

“தன்பெண்டு தன்பிள்ளை சோறு வீடு 
சம்பாத்தியம் இவையுண்டு தானுண் டென்போன் 
சின்னதொரு கடுகுபோல் உள்ளம் கொண்டோன் 
தெருவார்க்கும் பயனற்ற சிறிய வீணன்“

The one who stays content with the welfare of his wife,

kids, food and wealth,

is the one who is of a heart that is as big as a mustard seed,

useless to anybody else.

We are becoming obsessed with our own happiness and fulfillment that we tend to undermine one major truth of life. Everybody is fighting their own battles. For each, their sufferings and issues form the crux of their existence. They go about those issues in a Do-or-Die mode. One just cannot blame them. It is the same fear of losing out that keeps them going. In a way, it has become a matter of survival of the fittest.

The author shares with us, one of the major lessons he learnt from one of the prisoners, Mike.

Be the best prisoner you can be.

This statement is a compassionate one if you think about it. It does not underestimate the struggle of other people. In a way, it acknowledges that one need not be similar to another in terms of problems and that all of us have certain limits and boundaries within which we may have to restrict ourselves in dealing with our issues. The statement gives credit to that component and implores us to put up our best show wherever we are and whenever it is. The author is right when he says that not everybody can do everything in life. In fact, even on an individual level, it might not be possible to do everything that one might have wished for. In such cases, the author tells us to live our best life, in any circumstance we may find ourselves in.

It is rare to find words of compassion around us. We all are in such a hurry that we fail to see the presence of another person near us. We do not really know who our own neighbor is and what they do for a living. For all we know, we might be sharing a wall with a serial killer, who is perennially high on LSD! (Just saying). We do not care anymore for such things, do we? There is one angle of people becoming sexually frustrated and do horrible stuff to kids, I agree. But we must realise that we would probably be the last generation who practically grew up, eating the same food as our friends in the neighborhood since all the families adopted us as their own, without any bias. We would also be the last generation who celebrated festivals together with the entire apartment sharing crackers and good wishes.

Perspectives- #2 Frank Bruni

This New York Times columnist is a revelation to me. His writings are smooth and provoke me to think emotionally. I happened to read two of his pieces, both fine ones, and it left me going back in time to look into my own life and my relationships with my father and sibling.

I have supportive parents. When I say supportive, I don’t mean someone who would go to the extent of sharing a drink with me, but someone who actually were available when I wanted to talk something or confide in them. May be that is what enabled me cruising through my troubled teenage without much of an issue. Even with such parents, I found his piece on his father relevant. I saw my life with my father when I was reading that piece. I will explain.

Fathers in many Indian homes are silent warriors. They strive every moment to ensure that there is food on the table and that his family is comfortable and not lacking anything. He might slog for long hours, do jobs that he doesn’t really like or having issues with his friends or colleagues, but we are not shown that side of his life. We are rendered blissfully unaware of those.

Growing up can do a lot of things to you. In many homes, girls grow up to move closer to mothers and boys to their fathers. This might be stereotypical and could even have stemmed from the set gender bias norms in our country, but that is how it worked for a lot of people I knew. This was in fact reiterated by my father when recently he called me up to tell me that until the age of four, I was extremely close to my father, such that I didn’t really fancy staying with amma. He mentioned this while he was trying to highlight that these days I am closer to Amma than I am to him. How I wish to tell him that nothing has gone wrong or it is not out of deliberation that I am closer to amma and that it was just how it happened. How I wish I could tell him that there are certain issues which would be better if discussed with someone of the same gender. Sigh!

There were times when I was told that my father had confidence and faith in me and my choices. Even if he did not highlight that himself, amma always ensured that she conveyed it to me. His confidence in me is what amazes me till date. Believe me when I say that I did not know it the moment when I was born. I took my own time to realise it and see it, all by myself. Till then, I had thought may be my father thought I was a dud head, who was confused about her life and who didn’t know the evil ways the society worked. He was and is a silent warrior. He suffers in silence and rarely speaks out what he is going through. That is how in fact we are cultured, isn’t it? Men are supposed to be macho and steely all the time while women are allowed the privilege to cry their hearts out. Men crying is seen as a sign of weakness. This generalisation actually is adopted as a vicious circle. Fathers don’t cry and seeing them serious all the time, sons avoid crying too. This goes on and on because, for any son, their father is their hero, their invincible emperor who is out to rule the world. My brother considers my father that way, I am sure.

I have a brother, who is like a baby to me. Even if he is 40 years old and I am 49, he would still be my baby. There are times when I have ruined his dreams when I joked about him being a marine engineer and a tea-master (Of course I did not know then that tea had strange strings of fortune with it). He has, in turn, made my life full of fun and laughter. I would have been a lonely, miserable kid if it was not for his presence in my life. We have tiffs even now. He seems to have a strange super power to gauge when I would be asleep and he could call and ruin my sleep. Hell breaks loose if I ignore his calls. Period. There is no appellate authority to plead to, for this heinous crime, FYI.

These write-ups, left me thinking if I would even stop to think about people and their actions twenty years down the line. The power of having an open communication channel, the significance of trivial bonds, the leniency that we are supposed to give our parents etc are usually under-rated. I wonder why. Is it because we are not afraid of losing these relationships? After all, it is our own family we are talking about. So what about the other working relationships? Are they working mainly because we put in that extra effort to maintain and nurture them? We could ponder over these issues for many a sleepless night, and I am sure we would be awed at the amount of taking-for-granted that we do.

 

Perspectives- #1 Chimamanda Adichie

This series, ‘Perspectives’ will have everything that I learn these days, which I feel I could share with you all. It could be well-written pieces, small things that I felt were significant enough, awesome articles or books that I stumbled upon etc.

I am fortunate to be a part of an amazing group of students, who never cease to amaze me with their thoughts and opinions. Even better are the teachers who introduce us to something new every day. That said, I would like to pen down my perspectives about a particular piece that supposedly took the West by storm when it was published. This piece is by Adichie describing the way the West chooses to portray the Third World.

I am sure we all would be familiar with the way India is stereotyped in the West by the West. We are vividly reminded of Slumdog Millionaire and Rajesh Koothrapalli from the Sitcom The Big Bang Theory. We have joined our American friends in laughing at the idiosyncrasies of Rajesh while reminiscing fondly about our days in India. More often than not, we might have also wondered if whatever we saw on screen was in any way reflecting the reality of the country we came from. But then, hey! That was only for representational purposes and must be taken in a comical sense. Similar is the image of SRK dancing to the tunes of Lungi Dance, singing about mixing lassi and coconut. Leaving aside the blatant fact that the lungi is different from the veshti (which is white or off-white in colour) the song and that particular movie was an abomination to the portrayal of Tamilians (please note that I am not using the terms Madrasis or South Indians, because I recognise that South India is more than just Madras). Owing to the above internal and not-so-internal conflicts of thoughts, I found the piece by Adichie relatable.

This piece is an attempt to bring to light the realities of what Africa, as a continent is. She is honest when she says that Africa is a group of many cultures and nations but then they are also strikingly similar in many aspects. Very much like India, right? A land that is a melting pot of cultures and languages. So much that India has a dance form that is unique to every state.

She talks about being expected to defend or be aware of something that happens in Egypt while she is from Nigeria. That is what we get to do in India. Many a time, I had wanted to pull Rohit Shetty and Honey Singh and slap them hard for the way they lacked in research while claiming to portray something. More so, especially because Shetty also took the name of the city which he claimed was instrumental to his story (or the lack of it). We also have such stereotypes in India. Madrasis, Settu, and a couple of other colorful names form very much a part of these stereotypes prevalent in India. Don’t even get me started on the North East India angle of it. While this mixture of cultures and languages might be common to insiders, the outsiders seem to be ignorant about these. Honestly, even insiders take geography for granted at times, but moving on.

Adichie then moves on to Madonna, who had adopted a child from Malawi. It is surprising how celebrities do a lot of things for the sake of symbolism or making a point, without actually intending to make a difference. This act of making the news somehow seem to have irked Adichie a lot. It irks me too, to be honest. The most recent example that I could think of is how our own Superstar keeps us on our toes talking about politics and the apparent system. The point being that there are many other ways, which are way better, to mean well to the people whom they say they care for, that would actually make a difference in their lives. Adichie goes on to tag such actions as ‘Cringe-worthy’. I felt she was justified in doing so. How big an impact is that if one child of Africa is given a better life in terms of money, health, and education? Isn’t these clear examples of giving them fishes instead of teaching them how to fish? And how is it good that the child grows up, in total oblivion to its own culture or identity?

The Western media portrays Africa as a perennially impoverished region. It seems to the viewers as if Africa is synonymous with poverty. In a way, they seem to glamorise the concept of poverty. The author takes a dig at this by calling out their hypocrisy when it came to wealth hoarding and appeasing and supporting of weak African leaders. She seems to imply that the cause and effect of such atrocities are the West itself. I feel the West has always had a major role in almost all the internal conflicts that are happening in today’s political world. Typical of someone who practises the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy.

Taking a leap to the above-mentioned idea of portrayal, I wondered how true it is that when someone says Africa, the immediate image that we get are that of thick jungles, malnourished kids, unclean streets, and chaos. This applies to almost all the third-world countries. Are we really the land of the snake charmers? By the way, I found India lovely and charming in Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend. But these form just a minor aberrations from the usual.

Do we take the effort to think beyond what is shown to us? Do we realise that there is much more to any place than what is portrayed by words or visuals? I think not. This is the author’s anguish as well. She seems to be thoroughly annoyed by the showbiz symbolism that Hollywood is famous for at the cost of her people in her own land. I found that anguish justified. There are many sides to any and every story, they say, and I second that fact with all my heart.

 

Lipstick Under My Burkha- An Afterthought

 

This post comes as an afterthought. A thought that cropped up in me after having watched the movie, Lipstick Under My Burkha.

The movie is about four women, from different walks of life. Each of them is dealing with their own set of problems. There is also a rule book prescribed for those women by the society which they are expected to adhere to at all times.

There is this middle aged widowed woman, who is seen as the bold and uncompromising matriarch of an entire mohalla. She commands respect and is warm to those living there. A young mother of three, who is seen working in a job and doing great at it, all unaware to her husband. Inside the confines of their bedroom, she is just seen as a woman who is supposed be an object of pleasure for him. An unmarried girl, who is forced to take painful decisions regarding her own wedding, because of many other constraints. This girl is seen as a repository where the woes of the other women are shared for consolation. Lastly, there is a young college girl, who yearns to live in her own free world, devoid of a burkha.

The stories of all these women are related and yet parallel. They all represent a certain class of our society and the expectations the society has of them, how ever unreasonable those expectations might be. Each of the above-mentioned women has been suppressed in various ways, which makes for a disturbing revelation later on in the movie.

I loved the way this movie opens a can of worms. I was left with the question of substitution. Would the degree of ostracising be the same, if it were men in the places of those women? One can only imagine. The movie, in a way, portrays what is wrong with the social set-up that we live in. The different rule book, the unrealistic expectations, the fear of being slut-shamed, the reluctance to assert one’s own preference or sexuality for that matter, everything.

The dark undertones (lighting) in around half the movie might be to convey the dark reality of the society that we live in.

Personally, I loved the movie for having been a mirror to our lives, and I swear any woman could relate to at least one scene in this movie on a personal level. The movie moves a tad slow at places, but overall, I enjoyed it. I just fervently hope that this spirit does not die down.

 

Gender Roles and Body Shaming

Konjam odamba kora. Apo thaan kalyanathuku apram sari a irukum’ (tone down a little only then it would be perfect after marriage)

Let the menfolk eat first. Let’s serve food for them’

These are common sentences we get to hear in a typical Indian household. Be it a family gathering or just a couple of family friends meeting each other, patriarchy and body shaming is being served, unaware to us, on a silver platter. We tend to practice and propagate meaningless rules generation after generation, unconsciously, and then crib about women’s empowerment and gender equality.

We have been a part of the problem that is plaguing our society these days. I have a few observations to drive in my point.

At any social gathering, with our extended family or friends circle, the ladies would be moving in groups in the vicinity of the kitchen while the menfolk would be comfortable in the living room, guffawing out loud. Except those occasional peeps into the kitchen asking if food and drinks are ready to be served, it is a rarity to see men near the kitchen. We also promote the bias by asking the men to eat first and pulling back our girl children to serve food and drinks, in the pretext of ‘training’ her for her future as a hostess.

Similar is the case of body shaming within the family. Every aunty would have a ready-made opinion on your looks and a handy recipe to reduce the weight or drive away those blemishes in your face. They would be more than happy to express an opinion on everything under the sun, irrespective of whether they are asked for it. We have seen our own people shaming us for being too thin or too fat or too dark or too pale. After all, marriage is a market and we must be THE best product to fetch a super awesome bargain, right?

Every society has a huge role to play in shaping up a generation. We have graduated from child marriage and sati to what we call a more liberal scenario. But how true is that? As girls, we are asked to cover ourselves up in the scorching heat, while boys enjoy walking around topless. We are asked to not place our innerwear in the washroom for laundry lest our siblings see them and get aroused. We are asked to serve tea and coffee to the guests while the boys are allowed to socialise and entertain the guests with Bravo stories of their escapades. We are asked to maintain our weight and skin while no such emphasis is put on boys who are also becoming eligible bachelors side by side. Boys are told to focus on bank balance while girls are told to tone it down.

All these might sound trivial and immaterial, but they go a long way in seeding the thought of patriarchy and gender inequality in people. We are sowing seeds which are going to keep sprouting into non-sensical and illogical gender roles in future.

While we might not like naming it, this is what we call patriarchy and body shaming. It is real and it is there in our own house if we watch closely. We are very much a part of the problem.

How to come out of this rut? Offer to slay the patriarchy from your own female folks. Encourage sharing of chores, help them develop a healthy body image, do not promote stereotypes. We have come this far and are stepping into another decade in the 21st century. We sure do not need men with regressive mindset and women who practice and preach gender roles. Let us begin the change from our own selves.

 

Tea Kadai Bench

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Tea Kadai Bench indicates the benches put outside the tea shops in South India. In this part of the country, this is not just a mere aspect of timepass. It is much more than that.

Tea kadai benches are the places were the menfolk in the rural areas catch up with the latest news and events. A place that transcends the man-made boundaries that are religion, caste and sometimes socio-economic status. It is the male equivalent of the gossip sessions that women indulge in, during the afternoon.

Often, one might wonder how the shop keeper allows so many people to block the space that he has made exclusively for his customers in such endless banter. Be rest assured that, in most such occasions, the shop keeper would also enjoy the chatter and would be happy to chip in new information or his take on the topic that is being discussed.

Though the advent of cities has made this ritual vanish, there are still places in suburbs and villages, where this is probably the only source of entertainment to the people who live there.

Afterall, what goes better with hot news other than a hotter cup of chai, right?? 😉

Image Credits- The featured image is a lovely one I found while browsing, which was featured in the newspaper The Hindu.

Quarter Bottle

Good news or bad news, the one thing that remains a constant in the variable equation that is life, is the Quarter Bottle, a.k.a alcohol.  

Tamilnadu has its alcohol market regulated in a weird way.  The liquor in the state is supplied by TASMAC, which is a state owned enterprise.  The bars and retail shops are all owned by this enterprise.  This is a major source of revenue for the state exchequer actually.  

So in recent days, there has been lot of noise regarding the prohibition of alcohol because it seems only now that people are waking up to the bane of liquor shops in their locality.  The menace of drunk and drive isn’t going down anytime soon either.  

So the Honorable Supreme Court ruled that there shall be no sale of alcohol within 500 metres from any of the highways.  This might be a blanket move, no doubts about it.  

But our own people, renowned world wide for the quick fixes they invent, have begun the process of ‘denotifying’ the roads, which is essentially downgrading a road from one level to a level below that in terms of control and compliance.  

Also, Tamilnadu has the culture of wooing voters with alcohol and food.  Quarter and Kozhi biryani, they say.  These form an inevitable part of the campaign culture here and it’s nothing but the sad truth.  

This post is a part of the A to Z challenge 

Nirbhaya and Nightlife

Well, One of the most remarkable feature of Chennai as a city is that it is safer than many other metro cities.  

With decent connectivity and helpful people, it is easy to survive in Chennai. When incidents of harassment and rapes were haunting the country’s capital, Chennai stood strong with its record of claiming to be safe by the residents.  

This can be owed to multiple factors although a major one would be it’s relatively conservative fabric.  

This conservative nature can also be a reason for the city’s not so enviable nightlife.  

People from Bangalore always have this against Chennai.  The nightlife here sucks. With a handful of pubs and nightclubs, that too mostly concentrated among the 5 Star hotels of the city, Chennai is one city that most probably sleeps at night.  

The recent directive of the Government related to bars and alcohol has only made things worse to the pub – hopping scene in the city.  

By the way, nights are for sleeping, aren’t they?? 😉