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.

 

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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

tea

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 

Gilma

Gilma is a slang word in Tamilnadu used to denote anything related to Sex.  
Tamilnadu has many slangs of Tamil. From Chennai in the north to Tuticorin in the south, people identify themselves with the tone, the words and the accents that they speak. 

Gilma is one such ‘modern’ word which intends to convey ‘sex’ or ‘romance’ or ‘making out’ and all other 16524865 variants.  Of course I have this feeling that this word has been derived from a more sophisticated word ‘Gilphansy’, which also means the same as gilma does.  

My early memory of this word is when I was 16 and this was used generously among my schoolmates, thanks to the hormones.  

Gilma is a noun and it CANNOT be derived into Gilmaed, or gilmaing just like how we use ‘googling’ or ‘googled’ these days.  

Other words to denote same meaning are Jalsa, Jilpa, Matter etc.  

The Travail of Travel in Chennai

Home-Office-Home

This has been my schedule for the past six years in Chennai. Being an immigrant to the Southern Metro of Chennai, I was intimidated at first. Intimidated by the speed and the size of everything around me.  Rampant pollution, noise, a casual indifference among the people rushing to get to their workplaces and homes, various modes of transport – all of these scared the shit out of me. Of course, this was almost seven years back. I dug in, quite well, to be honest. Since then, Chennai has been my home. My very own Madras.

And then came the time, when I had to get to classes as early as six in the morning after which I had office and then again some classes. I used to reach my room, my humble abode, which I shared with three other people, at nine thirty at night. I depended solely on MTC buses and Share Autos.

Apart from being subject to pick-pocketing once and groping once, I should add that my commutes by these buses have been uneventful. I considered myself lucky if I got a seat, luckier when I am not at the receiving end of the conductor’s jibes and the luckiest when the bus actually stops at my bus stop. Gradually I started becoming tired after a whole day’s work and classes that the bus travel was killing me. Combine this pain with the changes in the client location and menstruation once a month, I was living the life of a nomad.

That was when my parents got the lovely idea of gifting me with a two wheeler, a TVS Scooty Pep+. My life became easier. I thought I was safe and that my spirit was sane. I took my scooty everywhere. The shop nearby, the classes, the client location, you name it and I would be there with my reliable companion. It gave my wings back to me with the assurance that only motherly hugs could give.

Peak hours are a curse. This is not confined to just Bangalore or Mumbai. Chennai choked during peak hours. No amount of strategic planning could actually save me from those peak hour signals and the crazy driving that comes along with it. I was pushed to negotiate the roads alongside the experts like the MTC buses and trucks. What chance would a minuscule scooty stand against such behemoths??

The first enemy for anybody riding a scooter, is the window of the bus. You never know who would end up choosing the exact same time to spit out the window, as you bask in the glory of overtaking the bus. What are the odds, you ask? Oh! Trust me when I say “too many”. People seem to be happily oblivious to the fact that the bus is not the only vehicle cruising on the roads and there are others, who are lesser fortunate, who drive alongside and would really not favor being spat on.

The second enemy is obviously the door of the bus. Chennai buses are crowded. We have a pathetically small fleet when compared to the size of the population that uses these buses. Invariably, all the buses that I am pushed to share the space with, at the signals, would be overflowing with people. With guys hanging on the foot-board (Don’t get me started on the dangers of foot-board travel), the opportunities to get cat-called and leered at, is high.

Today was one such day. It was no different from other days, but still let me give you a description of how it was. As I started from my work, my first stop was the Gemini signal, which is notorious for its traffic. Beside me was a bus, which held people, at a number more than its designated capacity. The signal lasts typically for about a minute and one has to wait, no matter what. I felt numerous pairs of eyes on me, violating me all through the 60 seconds. It was gross to such an extent that I had to cover myself up with my dupatta. And no! My attire was not asking for this to happen. I felt bad. I felt disgusted.

Trust me when I say this is a very normal thing to happen to women who opt to ride a scooter. They are being violated with eyes.

Personally I hold very less tolerance towards such transgressions. Creating a ruckus in a long distance SETC bus to Madurai during Pongal season years back due to molestation and pricking a guy who groped me in a 17M bus, with a safety pin in Chennai on a fine morning stands to my credit. I am thankful that my parents gave me the balls to shout and make a mayhem when someone exploits my private space. I consider myself fortunate. But it shudders me to think of hundreds of other women, who are not as fortunate as I am. What about them?

I have no qualms with the cops of Chennai, for I have always found them to be courteous and helpful. One just needs to approach them in a kind and respectful manner and trust me they will help for sure. I have experienced this at Mylapore Police station post 8.30 PM, when I had gone to lodge a complain about my missing wallet.

I would say that the general mentality must change. Bus drivers and conductors need to be educated to take complaints seriously and not dust it off by saying, “It is peak hours and we cannot help it”. No. If you can’t who else will??

People, at large, must be given awareness. Safety is not about one man or one woman. It is about the community as a whole. One should feel safe to venture out. One should feel safe that even if something unfavorable happens, there are people to help out. That is where actual success lies.

Let us spread awareness about this to each and everyone, personally. Forget about what the society can do and focus on what one can do. Each of us doing our part, would help the society achieve something substantial.

Let us make Chennai safe!

AWARE is an Non Profit Organisation working to make Chennai city safer and sustainable. If you can spare a few minutes off your precious time, please participate in this survey, the results of which would be shared with the concerned authorities to make transport safe in Chennai. *

Image credits- Google

 

G-Men,Ladies and Tharkis

DisclaimerThis post is highly opinionated and a little sermonish. People with an open mind and non-judgemental view need only proceed to read the post. The post also contains objectionable language (although at well-deserving places) and slight graphic description of situations that might leave one with an unpleasant feeling in the stomach. So, people with sensitive hearts need not bother to read further. Effects born out of ignoring the above warning is not the author’s responsibility. You have got only yourself to blame for that.

You may all know that its 17 years now into the 21st century and we are here talking about molestation and patriarchy. We might deny it a thousand times , but one just cannot overlook the fact that the above mentioned items are still out there, staring at us with the same glee, if not worse, it had long back.

New year’s eve was celebrated all across the country with the usual aplomb. Parties, crackers, music, noise, liquor and what-nots decorated the celebrations. It is now almost a week past January 1st  and we still have the one news item filling our super prime-time and all other mildly different versions of the prime-time. The Bangalore Mass Molestation incident*.

*For the people who have no inkling of what happened- Bangalore, known for its forward thinking in terms of cultural tolerance and acceptance bore witness to this shameful incident. When hundreds of people gathered the famed streets of the heart of Bangalore, women ended up being groped and driven mad by the crowd. Police were alleged to be helpless onlookers to the horrific incident and so were the rest of the crowd. This incident has managed to steal the thunder away from many other major issues plaguing the nation, successfully for the sixth day in a row, in the media limelight.

This post is a reflection of my thoughts over the last few days on the topic, addressed to three categories of people who need to be addressed. If you are asking me why I chose three categories, you will know in a while.

To the Gentlemen,

I know that by now you guys would be tired of trending #NotAllMen wherever possible and would be done with lamenting over the fact that no matter how much you guys try, you end up being in the taker’s side of generalization. I have a few words to tell you guys.

No matter how much you claim to be a diamond of a guy, you ended up being a mute spectator when it happened there that night. Shame on you! Even if each of you had taken up the task of thrashing one guy who had the nerve to lay a hand on women there, this would not have happened. Or at the least, it would not have been this worse. If each of you had tried to protect the womenfolk from those lecherous creeps, the women would have felt more confident and fought back. If each of you had taken it upon yourself to raise your voice when your girls complained of groping, the police would have gotten the message. The responsibility of this incident is equally upon each of you, who failed to live up to the unwritten rules of Civic behavior. Shame on you!

To the Ladies-

What do I say? You have undergone the horror first hand and are still breathing and moving around without locking yourself up. Kudos for that. In an era where tolerance and patience is undergoing a downward spiral, you ladies have lived to tell the tale. Kudos for that too. But I do have to say this.

Your body and mind is a temple. Nobody but you are the sole person responsible to keep your body and mind safe. Darling, when you know very well that you still have people with narrow minds out there, who are tharki enough to lay hands on you, who are eagerly waiting for an opportunity to violate you, shouldn’t you be safe? You also know that the authorities are helpless and, at times with the kinds of politicians we have in our midst, even useless, shouldn’t you know better that these revelries are a big stage for perverts to come out of their effing closets?

My dear One-woman Army, I am not blaming you for wearing what you did that night, for these horrors happen to ladies in burqas too. I am not blaming you for being young and beautiful and unmarried, for these things happen regardless of age. I am definitely not blaming you for wanting to go out and make merry at night, for rapes happen even in broad daylight.

All I am saying is that give your safety the top-most priority always. Nothing else matters these days, especially when you know your guy-friends and other accompanying males could become speechless all of a sudden and choose their own safety over yours. We still are not there yet, whatever we might wish to believe, the hard truth remains that we still are not there.

To the molesters-

If you really are curious as to why I did not include you in the list of “men” or “women”, then let me explain. You are neither. You are just a bunch of opportunist creeps, who prey upon unsuspecting souls and derive sheer pleasure out of it. You don’t deserve to be included in any category of human being, for that matter.

When you were so much engrossed in awarding yourself the pleasure of a woman’s body, without her consent, did you think of this? What if that other person, the victim, is not your sister/mother/wife, but you? Would you have liked to be violated that way too? On the other hand, what if the lady on the other end had had a sharp instrument or a pepper spray with her and you bore the brunt of it? How were you planning to explain your bruises and the blood to your family? Do you have a family at all??

I wish the next time you touch a woman, you get infected by the most gruesome skin disease with boils and pus all over, rendering you incapable of touching yourself let alone others. I wish the next time you rape a woman, you die of sexually transmitted diseases which might have been dormant in you all these days. I wish and pray for a painful and gruesome death to you.

Apart from the above, there is also the case of “Self discipline”. I still have a few of my friends who think it is the government’s job to “govern” them and they bear no responsibilities for nation building. I am baffled at this claim. The moment we need someone to rear us and take care of us, the care-taker becomes the shepherd and we, in turn, become sheep. What pride is there in being a bunch of animals? What pride is there in evolving downwards?? No one shall ever know.

I think the day we understand the actual meaning of “teamwork” and “unity”, that day we can call ourselves human beings. Till then, let us keep bleating our guts out to glory!