Friday, February 14, 2014

February 14th, 2014.

It's that day of the year, which comes 4 days before my birthday and 5 days before the husband's. It's that day of the year when roses are overpriced, violets can't be found, and restaurants are overbooked and way too crowded. It's that day of the year when people are wishing their hunnies happy "loveday" (is this a new thing this year?!) on facebook even though they are seeing them everyday, going to sleep with them, and waking up beside them (assuming you haven't fallen out of bed in the morning).
Like most people relational wisdom has come to me late. I didn't know what was good for me in my 20s, and it took a long, drawn out, horrible relationship where I was cheated on and mistreated to bring me to my senses. Oh yeah, I received roses (or maybe it was lilies) on one (maybe a few?) Valentine's Days and a run of the mill proposal on another. But I would definitely fit the bill for any other emotionally abused woman on most of the other days of the year.
Thankfully, things didn't work out and I met a guy soon after, who said to me (upon hearing my miserable story) "you can't tell someone you love them, without saying, 'I' first". And, I might block out many other things my husband says to me, but that little morsel of wisdom is not something I will easily forget.
Today is Valentine's Day, and I have no roses (we think flowers are a waste of money - especially today), no restaurant reservations (we are waaaaay too lazy to book in advance). I had a long day at school, gave my students a test (on Valentine's Day I later realized), picked up some takeout from an awesome Malaysian restaurant (Penang in Chinatown) and came home to mark said test papers. The husband isn't home yet but will probably be soon. The takeout will be a nice little treat because all we have been eating for the last week or so is hot chicken soup (I've been battling a horrible viral infection and sore throat). My sore throat is back today, but if I have to eat another cup of hot soup I'll most definitely bawl. When the husband comes  home, we will heat up the takeout, snuggle up on our couch/bed and finish watching the third episode of Sherlock (we both dozed off last night), maybe catch a few episodes of Breaking Bad (we are mid season 2 now), and go to sleep.
Boring? No, comfortable. Lacking Love? Absolutely not!  I get to do what I want to do when I want to do it, and my husband supports me. If it wasn't for him, I would never be in a PhD program now. I know that, if I'm too tired to cook, he will either cook something hot and steamy, or he will have a cup of coffee with some cookies and go to bed with no complaints. I know, that if I don't feel like doing the laundry (it's my most hated chore forever in spite of all the gadgets we in the west have) he'll scrounge around in his closet to find that last clean shirt and pair of socks. I know, that on my birthday he will come home from a long day at the lab and make me hot steaming luchis in the kitchen because it's my favourite birthday food. I know that if I wanted to go away for a month to Toornto, I can do that without worrying about my husband and his meals, the dishes, the laundry, and grocery shopping.  I know that when diaper duty grosses me out (because it absolutely will) he's going to be able to take that on (blech. gross)

It's not that I love him because of all these things. I love him because he loves me enough to understand what makes me happy.

Some men who are doing extra special things for their wives/girl friends today do take on all the things I talked about above. But, I know that many don't. Valentines day perpetrates the idea that roses can wipe away the wounds from a few thorns - but really, they don't. Roses and shiny jewelry is not what happiness is made of. My friends who are the happiest are those who have similar relationships - ones that are based on trust, honesty, mutual respect and of course, love.
Now, back to grading papers!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A protest in spite of being shut out.

Much has been said about the power of words. An English playwright wrote the now immortal line "The Pen is Mightier than the Sword". One can, in times of need choose to use words instead of  force and avert great crises. Perhaps the most blazing example of this is what is going on in Syria. On the other hand, words can do as much damage as the sword. Words can be hurtful, painful, and trauma inducing. Words can never be taken back. Words can kill.

As language evolves we human beings tend to use words in lots of different contexts without fully understanding what they mean. "I got gypped", "That's so ghetto", "You're being gay" are phrases which people frequently use without knowing what they mean exactly. They don't understand where they are coming from, how they got coined, and how by using that phrase one can in just a moment rob a whole group of people of their voice, their power, and their identity. I probably do it too. But I try not to. I try to be as sensitive as I can. I can't think of an example right this minute, but I hope that when I am being insensitive, someone will tell me, and give me a chance to apologize and acknowledge that I really should know better. It is after all the right thing to do.

I have (now had) a friend on facebook who I had expected would do the same. Today, I noticed his status which read exactly, "ManU getting raped by Man City :( " I protested. Thankfully, I had the good sense to take screenshots of the conversation to show my friends. A very good friend of mine helped me put it into a composite. All possible identifiers have been blurred out, because, I really do hope that he was just being stubborn and not willfully ignorant. I didn't remember to take a screenshot of the original status message, but hopefully, the comment preceding mine in the screenshot stands in for it.

The conversation quickly deteriorated. While I couldn't take screenshots of that part (it happened really quickly) I managed to copy and paste the conversation to show another friend. It went like this, verbatim:

Dudebro - The only reason I want to block you, is not to silence you but I don't have time to get into a stupid long ass argument because someone does not understand the difference between a literal meaning and metaphor. Why people always have to be morally correct? 

 Me -· Well, I disagree. What people fail to do when using the words like this is to have empathy for people who have actually been raped. I have worked with rape victims, and the trauma never leaves them. When they see their pain being trivialized it brings up a lot of ptsd. Think about a boy who was raped when he was a child, or a woman who was attacked - any other usage of the word "rape" needlessly brings up issues for them, right? Its the same reason we should not be using the word "gay" to put someone down either. We are human beings because we have the ability to be "human" - empathetic, sympathetic beings. Why not just do that, and listen and raise your awareness when someone steps forward and tells you that you are failing? That's what I believe. IF someone tells me that I was being hurtful, I believe that the human thing to do is to say, I'm sorry, not justify what I said. How do you know I wasn't raped? How do you know what that word means to me?

And dudebro, I'm a pretty intelligent person. The problem isn't with me not understanding what you said. I am simply telling you that its a problematic usage of the word. And I am not one to have "discovered" this suddenly either. Now, you can choose to do whatever, but your choice doesn't make me wrong. 

 Dudebro -  Does not make you right either.... 

 Me -  whatever makes you happy. But I hope this makes you think before you say it again. Cos that will be the right thing to do.  

 Dudebro - Same goes for you..  

 Me - I'm not the one being insensitive here. Your behaviour didn't teach me anything good. It just showed me how insensitive some people can be.  

 Dudebro - blah blah blah 

 Me - yup. that's nice and very mature.  

(At this point he deleted all my comments and his replies that appeared on his status message.)

Me - I called it right? youre such a self important prick I knew you'd do that. I called it right? Only serves to show me that I was right.

Dudebro - Fuck off Rini.

And, then he deleted me off his friend's list.

Please note that I have not made any changes to the copied and pasted parts of the conversation above. I have not even fixed typos I made to preserve the integrity of my post. Oh and obviously, the guy's name isn't dudebro (Although I wouldn't be surprised if some "famous" couple happens upon this name in an effort to be unique). My friend very eloquently used this word to describe my now former friend.

The point of me posting this here is probably to some extent shame publicly. Although, if he was being willfully ignorant I don't expect this post to change anything. But more importantly, I think that when the whole world is at our fingertips, and one word can make or break a person's moment/day/life, people really should learn to be a lot more sensitive and respectful. Acknowledging when one has hurt someone else is probably more important than being aware. I was never raped, but I have been molested, like many girls/boys who have grown up in India. I can't even begin to understand the kind of trauma that a person has leftover from physical assault of any kind. Let's all just be a little more sensitive when we use words. Let's all just be a little more empathetic. Perhaps then, people will feel safer and will come forward when they have been victimized. If my comments on his status made sense to one person on his entire friends list I consider my Sunday morning not wasted.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Women in India can Stop the Hand that Touches Them

India has been in the news with the way women are being harassed, molested, and raped in the streets of urban cities. This isn’t a new thing. This kind of female objectification and subjugation has been going on for ages. I think the internet has made it a lot easier for these stories to reach us. And, lately I feel as if the scumbags perpetrating these kinds of barbarisms in India have gotten emboldened and have decided to stop at nothing. They are shameless, disgusting men and should be treated the same way they treat women.

I am writing this post today because I am done with all the Western media shaming India relentlessly about the way Indian women are treated in India. I feel that part of it is the “look Indians are brown skinned savages who brutalize women constantly” orientalism at play. The other part may be the sensationalization of sexual abuse in India - after the brutal rape and murder of "Nirbhaya" in Delhi, this story is selling. Let’s be honest here, for every story that comes out of India about one man or many men raping or brutalizing a woman in India, there are thousands of other stories where men are kind, helpful and gentle. Obviously the crimes are happening, but what good is the publishing of these stories on CNN and Huffpost doing to the bigger picture?

I am also writing this post because I am disappointed. I realize that what I am about to ask for may be perceived as victim blaming, but this isn’t victim blaming. Because, I am not blaming women for what is happening to them in India. I am saying that they can be part of the solution and change what happens, after they get molested, raped or touched. I know that I am asking for an incredible amount of strength; the strength to fight back, not just against the men who are subjugating them, but also against centuries of Indian “tradition”. 

We can’t hope that once something bad happens, things will change. Now it’s time to take matters into your own hands. I know it’s difficult to twist the arm of the man who is touching you on the bus. But just find it in yourself and do it once. Look into the eyes of the man who is fingering you, clench your teeth, twist his arm and say, “I’ll break your arm so you won’t be able to touch another woman again”. I know, women are taught to be “soft” because if you aren’t soft and tender, you aren’t feminine. Bullshit. Remember all those Goddesses that we are taught to worship when we are children? They fight back. They are the reason good wins over evil. Tap into that part of your identity. Not the one that patriarchy and chauvinism decides to shape for us. 

Let’s not allow those with power to further victimize. Fight back. Use your vocal chords, your arms, your legs and your hands to fight back. Every woman in India has access to chilli powder. Carry a plastic bag of that good stuff in your purse and don’t be afraid to use it when necessary. It’s time to stop being a victim. It’s time to rise up and fight back. Spread the word, talk to other women and men about how you want their support, and that you want them to help. Talk to your friends, your family, your maids, and your neighbours and ask them what they would do if they saw a woman being victimized. Talk to your brothers and your boyfriends and ask if they respect your right to your own body, a woman’s right to her own body. And if they say that they do, ask them what they would do if they saw a woman being victimized. I just want a few of these stories to make it into the news: of women reclaiming their bodies, of women standing up to the scum of earth, of people beating the crap out of scoundrels who dare to claim ownership over another woman’s body. Barbaric scum should be forced to think a million times of what could happen to them if the women they were about to touch decided to stand up and fight back.

And one last thing, if you are a person who has children, teach your daughters to be proud of their bodies, to have ownership over their bodies, and to NEVER allow anyone to have access to it without their explicit permission. Teach your sons to have respect for all women, to understand the beauty of feminine strength, that they are NOT superior to women and that a woman’s vagina is not their right. 

It’s time that women reject the male chauvinism (perpetrated by both men and women) that teaches us that women are weak. Challenge it, stand up, fight back and woman, use that chilli powder.

P.S. I know that many people will not agree with me. I know that it is wrong to expect a victim to carry the burden of justice. I wouldn't if I could help it. But, at this point I see no other hope. I feel that if women don’t take matters into their own hands, if we don’t all band together and claim what is rightfully ours then things will never change.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Response to "A Dust Over India" by Mark Manson.

Before I begin my inconsequential rant, I want to address the very last thing that was written in the incoherent blog that is the subject of my rant today. The update at the end reads – “I want to thank all of the Indian readers who commented (yes, even the criticisms). I have promised to return to India one day and give it another chance, this time doing more research about the country and spending more time in the non-urban areas.”  My response: “Please don’t. India doesn’t need you to give it a second chance. It’s perfectly fine without personified orientalisms (such as you) pervading and polluting its existence. So, thanks but no thanks.” One last thing before I begin. I am not an India apologist like many of the responders on your blog. India is my mother land. I have spent a considerable part of my formative years in India and my still incomplete education began there. Like many people I know, India elicits in me extraordinarily complicated emotions. So, I am not even going to go there right now. This post is devoted solely to the travesty that is your blogpost:

Dear Mr. Mark Manson,

Your blog starts with the claim you have been to 40 different countries. I find it hard to believe that such a prolific traveler is surprised when he finds contradictions within a country which is teeming with millions. You ask yourself what the “immense history, the monuments, the spectacular sites of human ingenuity” are doing in India. I realize that if it could be helped the British (the former colonizers) would have uprooted all those silent witnesses to the incredible history of India (like they did with smaller artifacts), but since the technology didn’t exist back then, we will have to live with them being there. I know, it’s a bloody shame.

The first thing that you noticed was the trash. I am frequently told that the first thing people notice when they get off the plane is overwhelming smell (both good and bad). But I guess the trash and the smell (the bad kind) go well together. Yes, there is trash. And yes, there is the unforgiving inability to dispose of trash in a clean manner. It is a public health hazard and we all know it. It is embarrassing. It is dirty. But do you realize that the Dharavi slum (which you most likely walked past in Mumbai) is the recycling heart of India? The Dharavi slum recycling enterprise has hidden within itself 15,000 single room factories which employ around a 250,000 people and turns over a billion dollars every year. You can read more here: Did you notice that on those mounds of trash (everywhere) people were making their living by picking up plastic bags, bottles and other recyclables? You failed to recognize that in the process of giving off an unbelievable stench that organic waste is actually being degraded instead of being processed? Surely, Mr. Manson, you could have worked a little harder before starting your shortsighted rant?

You know the opening scene of Slumdog Millionaire when they show the young protagonist and his friends jumping into a pond of shit? (I think that’s what happened, but all I remember really is that there was a pond of shit, and there were boys in it). This blogpost of yours elicited that memory of mine a multiple times. Apparently there are people rolling around in shit, covered in shit, eating shit everywhere. I wonder what happened to make you so petrified of shit. But then who am I to judge, I can’t even throw out the garbage without throwing up a lung. I am also petrified of shit. The idea of having a baby (even though I love babies) and having to re-grow a lung every time I clean a diaper itself makes me want to throw up a lung. And yet, the “shit is everywhere” concept is eluding my memory. Perhaps it’s the fact that I am 33, and my memory isn’t what it used to be. While Slumdog Millionaire was rife with orientalisms I can not think of a better example of modern orientalism than the one you have provided me with on this beautiful day. I say “modern” because there still exists James Mill’s work on India.

You say, “the city is so crowded and disgusting that people decide they’d rather sleep on the airport runway.” Yeah. That is true. The city is crowded. This is the nature of the Indian metropolis – and it’s even more true for Mumbai. Cities are crowded, because as rural farmers struggle with producing what they need to be in order to just feed their families, they seek out a better life in the cities. When they come to the cities, they can’t find work and so they need to find a place to rest at the end of a long day. And, one of those places is the airport tarmac. It may be ridiculous to you, Mr. Manson but this is the nature of the rational man. When given no options he will pick the one that is the least objectionable. I can assure you that no Indian who is sleeping on the tarmac finds the city disgusting. If he did, he would go back to the place that he left in search of a brighter life. And one other thing, no one “decides” to sleep in anything but a bed.

“How could a place like this be allowed to exist?” – The same way a place where a teenager goes to the store to buy a drink gets shot and killed because he was a wearing hoodie is allowed to exist Mr. Manson. The same way Guanatanamo Bay, a prison where men are robbed of their human rights by one of the most “developed” nations on earth is allowed to exist. For such a well travelled man you have an unbearable poor sense of how things come to be. How can you be so naïve? India is one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. That’s how this is allowed to exist. That is why you saw no government. When people have no greater sense of need than to fill their own stomach, they don’t have time to worry about anything else. That is why there is no social accountability. When the rich make their living off of the poor and decrepit, they don’t care about fixing the social ills (just like in America). That is why there is no social change. If you are truly interested, I could send you a list of books that can explain to you why this country exists. But I’ll move on for now.

Your rant about saving India is possibly the worst example of white guilt that I have ever come across. The fact that you group Mother Teresa, and Bill Gates into that same saviour category is telling. It shows that you are absolutely clueless. You see, Mother Teresa dealt with the problem after it came to be. She picked up the poor and destitute and cared for them. She took their orphaned children and found them caring, loving homes. She however, NEVER sought to find the root and nip it in the bud. She didn’t teach people how to not have children which they couldn’t afford, in fact she went around the country undoing what government sex education campaigns were trying to do- educate people about the problem of population. Bill Gates on the other hand doesn’t simply hand out money to people who have malaria or polio. His foundation works on eradicating the problem of Malaria/Polio itself, by curbing mosquito populations and by increasing awareness of vaccinations. Bill Gates understands that the solution to all social ills in countries like Africa and India is in one word: education. You, on the other hand went to the most obvious solution: handing out money. And you didn’t really do that simply because you wanted to help, you also wanted to feel like you are helping. You know how I came to this conclusion? Because when you bought that couple food at what I would assume was a roadside dhaba, you felt the need to go put the plate down in front of them yourself. If you really are as well travelled as you say you are, then you should have known to buy them the plate and ask the storekeeper/waiter to take the food out to them and not give it to them yourself. But, if you did that you wouldn’t be able to look down at them while they ate what might have been their first full meal in months.

And, I just have to say this. NOONE GOES TO AGRA TO EXPERIENCE THE COUNTRYSIDE. It’s one of the most famous tourist spots in the world. Why would you think it would be peaceful?! *shakes fist in air*. And, one other thing, - yeah, when many Indians see non-brown skin they find it fascinating. There is also the unhealthy obsession with fairness but again that’s another issue. And yeah, they might want to take pictures with you. It’s just like a white person wanting to take a picture with an African tribe. I’m sure you’ve taken pictures of what was unfamiliar to you in India – the shit everywhere, the trash, the poor people, the dirt. It’s the same thing.

You don’t see the difference between a Pizza Hut in India and one that’s in the west? Really? Western chains aren’t fast food to Indians. They are a luxury. Fast food for Indians exists at every corner on the street. For a few rupees (pennies to you) Indians can buy cheap, awesome, fast food everywhere in the country. That’s why the manager came to ask you what you thought of the food. And, maybe because he wanted a white person to say that the Pizza Hut in India was as good (or even better, which I think it is) compared to the one that you are used to. Could you be a more self-entitled prick?

“Indian culture itself is quite disorienting. The people can be incredibly warm and hospitable, or cold and rude depending on the context and how they know you.” – Wait, do you not understand what the word “culture” means? Indian culture (in the true sense of the word ie language, dress, song, dance, food) is disorienting. And, that’s because India is a sub-continent. It has geographic, linguistic, cultural diversity like no other. It has close to 30 states (and often comes up with new ones, which is why it’s hard to keep track) and several territories. And, that is exactly why no two groups of people (just like any other country) are the same. So, yeah some people will be heart achingly nice to you and others will be complete assholes. It’s true in any other country. Which is why even “academic” rudeness/politeness indices don’t measure countries, they measure cities – because the social realities of a community have a much bigger bearing on its citizens. That is why if you go to a village in India, where people are generally happier with what little they have, and have learnt to find happiness in the simple pleasures of life – you will find that people will open their homes to you and will expect nothing in return. The same goes for places like Palestine, Bangladesh and rural America. I have the same kind of answer to your “eye-opening” conversation with “westernized” Sanjay. Indians aren’t capable of violence? Ummmm okay if he says so. I guess all the communal riots, targeted violence, and the rape stories are made up then. But, I digress.

As a side note – I like how you snuck the ending to your rug story in. Even though you tried (a little) it doesn’t redeem your judgmental, prickly orientalism. I do appreciate your standing up to the cab driver though. That was a good one. It is a matter of principle. However you should know that most large cities have made it illegal for a cab driver to not run his meter. So, you should have asked him to turn on the meter as soon as you noticed that he didn’t. It seems to me that you were looking for a fight. For all you know it might have been an honest mistake. And you should have signed his receipt. There are very strict rules that cab drivers have to follow, and there are dire consequences (such as losing his cab license or his job as a taxi driver) which can take away his only means of making a living.

On your Buddhism story, I only have to say this: commercialization of religion exists everywhere, in every religion. Truly spiritual people learn how to pick out the good from what taints religion. I think you need to practice more of your meditation skills.

I’m also surprised at your angst about the illegal wares being sold on the street. For such a well travelled person I am sure you must have come across illegal DVDs, fake brand name purses on the street in Singapore, New York and other such “civilized” places. Why is India any different?

I get it. India drives us (former Indians, ex pats) crazy as well. I am also one of those people who just can’t deal with the poverty. I’ve written about it before in myblog – that I feel like I’m sheathed by my sticky affluence. A rickshaw-wallah missed a train just so that he could take me home safely at 12 am when I was in India the last time. I gave him a 100 rupee note instead of the 20 that he had asked for. His smile was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Even now after countless tellings of this story, and while I write this, that smile makes me cry. It haunts me. You see, that smile doesn’t exist anywhere else. Nothing elicits more emotion in me than that smile. And, yet, if I had the choice I would choose not to experience it, because behind that smile lies a painful truth. That is the paradox. And no matter how cruel his story, there is still beauty in that smile. There is still beauty in India. It’s that beauty that makes us scrape and save for a few years just so we can go to India for 2 weeks and live again. That beauty lies in the trash, the smells, the awesome street food, the laughter of beggar children playing street football (you see that’s why that kid was asking for a soccer ball and not money). Happiness is fleeting and still beautiful in India. I am truly sorry you didn't get to experience it. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Champions of Women's Rights in Texas: Senators Davis and Van de Putte

I am in Awe. I am in awe of one woman who stood and spoke for 13 hours in support of women's rights in the state she represents. I am in awe of another woman who left her father's funeral to hold her colleague's hand, support her through a grueling filibuster, and lend her voice to the fight for a woman's right to her body in the state of Texas.

You see, it's easy for me to rant and rave on facebook. It's easy for me to get angry, and agitated over news while I watch at home on the tv or read on my laptop. It's easy to talk about these things that concern me on whatsapp, and angrily type out a comment on a particularly bothersome story. 

But what Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte did is hard. I'm not talking about the ordeal of standing for 13 hours straight. I'm not talking about the fact that not only did she plan to filibuster for 13 hours, but she also had to speak on topic lest she be ruled out of order for not saying things that are germane to the debate (which by the way is why she had to stop just shy of her goal - she was ruled out of order 3 times). I'm not talking about the fact that Ms. Van De Putte had to leave her father's funeral early to help her colleague and the women of Texas achieve what must have seemed impossible at the time. I'm talking about all the other things that do not lie in their hands. 

I can't imagine being surrounded by misogynistic men who do not value my personhood, my right to choose, and my right over my body. I can't imagine working with men who try to control my body all in the name of some conjured up definition of what they think is moral. I can't imagine having to deal with men who are so vicious as to deny me a back-brace to help me ease my physical pain while I aired my point of view. I can't imagine being pushed so hard that all the hurt, sadness, and anger would erupt from my voice in a single sentence - "At what point must a female senator raise her hand, or her voice, to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?”

Today I am grateful to Senators Davis and Van de Putte for doing what takes tremendous courage, and strength. To drown out those voices of paternalism and misogyny with one day of fortitude is no mean feat. My heartfelt admiration to the two of you and tremendous thanks to the women of Texas who showed up. Because of you there is still hope.

Monday, June 17, 2013

কুয়োর ব্যাং

আজকে কুন্তলার ব্লগে Mcdonalds নিয়ে একটা দারুন entry পড়লাম, সেইটা পড়তেই আমার নিজের একটা গল্পের কথা মনে পরে গেল। আমার প্রথম বাংলা ব্লগ পোস্ট পড়ে বেশ  উৎসাহ পেয়ে, হয়ত একটু বাড়ই পেলাম, কিন্তু তাতে কি হলো? আসলে হঠাৎ একদিন দেখি কৌশিক দার মা ও আমার ব্লগ এ কমেন্ট করে গেছেন। সেইটা দেখার পর থেকে খুব guilty feel করছি। মাসি যে লিখলেন, "এটা তোমার পুরাণো লেখা, কিন্তু এটাই তো শেষ বাংলা লেখা তোমার। তাই কতবার যে পড়লাম।... আরো লেখো। বাংলায় লেখো।" কমেন্টটা পড়ার পর থেকে প্রতিজ্ঞা করলাম যে পরের পোস্টটা বাংলাতেই করব। বাংলাতে টাইপ করতে তো একটু সময় লাগে, তাই দেরী হলো। (এখনো চন্দ্রবিন্দু টা  এড়িয়ে চলছে, ঠিক বাগে আনতে পারছি না। সেই কারণে চন্দ্রবিন্দু গুলো মনে মনে কল্পনা করে নিলে ভালো হয়। আর বাকি কোনো বানান ভুল হলে, ত্রুটি মার্জনা করিবেন।)
এর আগেও বলেছি আমি জন্মেছি টরন্টোয় আর বড় হয়েছি কলকাতায়। বছর ছয়েক বয়েস থেকে ঊনিশ পর্যন্ত কলকাতায় কাটিয়ে টরন্টো ফিরে এলাম ইউনিভার্সিটি অফ টরন্টোয় bachelors করতে। সে এক অতি বাজে অভিজ্ঞতা। কলকাতায় ভাই কে ফেলে, সমস্ত বন্ধুদের ছেড়ে, এই বিদেশে (যদিও কানাডা ঠিক আমার কাছে বিদেশ নয়) কী কুক্ষণে যে আবার ফেরত আসতে হলো কে জানে? এখন ভাবতে ভয় হয়, কিন্তু তখন মনে হয়েছিল হয়ত কলকাতায় থেকে, বাসন্তী দেবী কলেজ এ আর্টস পড়াটাই মন্দের ভালো হত আর কি। পরে একবার কোনো একটা কারণে  বাবার কাছে শুনতে হয়েছিল, " এই টরন্টোয় ফিরেই যত ঝামেলা হলো। কলকাতায় থাকতি, বাসন্তী দেবী কলেজ এ পড়তি আর পরে, দেখে শুনে একটা বিয়ে দিয়ে দিতাম!" কি সাংঘাতিক! এইটা কোনো আক্ষেপ হলো!?

টরন্টোয় সেপ্টেম্বর  মাস এ যা ঠান্ডা, সেইরকম ঠান্ডা তখন পুরো শীতকালেও কলকাতায় পড়ত না, আর এমনিতেই সবাই জানে আমি বেশ শীতকাতুরে। কলকাতার শীতে আমি ফুল স্লীভ শার্ট পরে স্কুল যেতাম, ছেলেদের শার্ট পরতাম বলে বকুনিও খেতাম, কিন্তু আমাকে কেউ ঠেকাতে পারত না। টরন্টোয় সেপ্টেম্বর মাস এর weather এই আমি ইয়া মস্ত বড় জ্যাকেট, মাফলার, গ্লাভস, টুপি পরেই বাইরে যেতাম। দেখে বেশ ওই "ফ্রেশ অফ দা বোট" ই লাগত - এই কথা স্বীকার করতে কোনো আপত্তি নেই। কিন্তু এদিকে আবার অন্য বিপদ, মুখ খুললেই কিন্তু কানাডিয়ান accented ইংরেজী বেরোত! এইটা কি করে হয় আমি এখনো বুঝিনা - প্লেন থেকে নামতেই আমি কেমন মাতৃভূমি তে ফিরে এলাম এই রকম একটা ভাব নিয়ে, ফর ফর, খাচ্যাং মাচ্যাং করে ইংরেজি বলা শুরু করলাম। হয়ত ছয় বছর বয়েসে থেকে dormant ছিল - কলকাতায় সবাই হ্যাটা করবে এই ভেবে ওই ছোট বয়েসেই নিজের আসল চেহারা টা কে সামলে রেখেছিলাম।

প্রথম ক্লাস এর দিন। ইউনিভার্সিটি অফ টরন্টো হলো বিশাল ক্যাম্পাস। ৪ টে সাবওয়ে স্টেশন জুড়ে, ক্যাম্পাস এর এ মাথা থেকে ঐ মাথা অবধি হাফ হেঁটে হাফ ছুটে যেতে মোটামোটি কুড়ি মিনিট মত লাগে, সেইখানে কেমন জানি একটা বোকাবোকা হাবা হয়ে গেলাম। ভুল করেছিলাম যে ক্লাস শুরু হবার আগে একবারও ক্যাম্পাস মুখো  হইনি। কুয়োর ব্যাং কে সাগরে ফেললে যেইরকম হবে সেইরকম অবস্থা হয়েছিল। সকাল নয়টায় বায়োলজি ক্লাস শুরু, সেই lecture টা হয় আবার convocation hall  এ। ক্লাস এর মোট স্টুডেন্ট সংখ্যা হলো ১৫০০। এমতাবস্থায় বিপদ যেন আরো ঘোরতর হলো। "কুল নাই সীমা নাই" - যে দিক পানেই চাই অকুল দরিয়া। ক্লাস এর শেষে বাইরে এসে দেখি ঝমঝম করে বৃষ্টি পড়ছে - ছাতা আনিনি। কিন্তু পরের ক্লাস টায়  যে যেতে হবে? মাথা তুললে দেখলাম, একটা খয়েরি চামড়ার মেয়ে ছাতা নিয়ে, এক হাত চুড়ি পরে বেশ "I Know Where I Am Going" এইরকম একটা ভাব নিয়ে গটগট করে হেঁটে যাচ্ছে। আমি তড়িঘড়ি একদম ছাতার তলায় ঢুকে পরে জিজ্ঞেস করলাম, "Hi! Do you know where Sid Smith Hall is?" সে ঐরকম একটা কিম্ভূতকিমাকার বেশে ছাতার নিচে uninvited ঢুকেই পড়েছে একজন মেয়েকে দেখে বলল, "Sure, Let me show you." শাম্ভাভি, (এত বছর পর ও সে আমার ভীষণ ভালো বন্ধু) আমাকে প্রকৃতির নিঠুর হাত থেকে বাঁচিয়ে Sid Smith Hall এ পৌঁছে দিল। আমি ক্লাস টা  কে কোনরকমে বার করে যখন ১০ মিনিট দেরী তে পৌঁছে দেখি এ মা, এইটা তো ক্লাস নয়, কারো অফিস! সেই ভদ্রলোক খুব অবাক হয়ে হয়ে বললেন, "I hope there isn't a class here, this is my office!" ভদ্রলোক বই হাতড়ে দেখে দিলেন যে আমার ক্লাস যেই বিল্ডিং এ সেইটা ক্যাম্পাস এর একদম অন্য প্রান্তে! আমাকে রাস্তা বুঝিয়ে দিয়ে, বিদায় দিলেন। আমি রাস্তায় বেরিয়ে দেখি তখনও  বৃষ্টি পড়ছে, বাইরে সিড়ি দিয়ে নামতে গিয়ে পা গেল মচকে, চশমা গেল ভেঙ্গে। ব্যাস অকুল পাথার।

খুঁড়িয়ে খুঁড়িয়ে কোনো রকমে campusএর ওই প্রান্তে পৌছেছি কিন্তু কোনো building এর নাম ই তো দূর  থেকে দেখতে পাই না। প্রত্যেকটা বিল্ডিং এর সামনে পর্যন্ত খুঁড়িয়ে দৌড়ে যাই, নাম পড়ি, আবার খুঁড়িয়ে দৌড়ে ফুটপাথে ফিরি, খুঁড়িয়ে দৌড়ে একটু সামনে এগোই, আবার নাম দেখতে যাই। এইভাবে বিল্ডিং টি বার করে, ক্লাস এ গিয়ে পৌছলাম এক ঘন্টা লেট।  একটা চুপচুপে ভিজে কাককে  মস্ত বড় জ্যাকেট, ভেজা মাফলার-গ্লাভস-চুল, ভাঙ্গা চশমা আর মুচকে যাওয়া পা দিয়ে দিলে যেরকম দেখতে লাগবে ঠিক সেইরকম বেশে আমি ঢুকলাম ক্লাস এ। এ ক্লাসে আবার মাত্র ৮ জন স্টুডেন্ট - architectural seminar. এই ক্লাস এ আমি এলাম কি করে, মানে রেজিস্ট্রেশন হলো কি করে, এই সব ভাবতে ভাবতে, শীতে কাঁপতে কাঁপতে নির্লজ্জ বেহায়ার মতন ঘুমিয়েও পরলাম। ক্লাসের শেষে,ঘুম থেকে ছুটে গেলাম রেজিস্ট্রার'স অফিসে। সেইখানে গিয়ে কাকুতি মিনতি করে ক্লাস বদলানো হলো।

এইবার প্রচন্ড খিদে। দুরে bloor street এর ওপর সারি দিয়ে কয়েকটা দোকান। "কফি ! আহ! গরম!" এই সব কথা ভেবে কফির দোকানের দিকে এগিয়ে গেলাম। দোকানে ঢুকে এক গাল হেসে বললাম, "Can I have a cup of coffee please?"
server - size?
আমি - ummmm... medium?
s - what kind?
আ - huh?
s - What Kind?
আ - I'm sorry I don't know what you mean.
s - full bodied medium roast, regular, dark blend, irish cream, hazelnut.... (এই সব কি কয়েকটা বলল)
আ - ummm... maybe, regular?
s - HowWouldYaLikeIt?
আ - Excuse Me?
s - How Do You Like Your Coffee Miss?
আ - In a cup....?
S - Ma'am, How much Sugar and Cream do you want in your coffee?
আ - Cream?! ... Sorry, can I just have a cup of coffee with some milk and sugar please?
যা কফি হাতে পেলাম সেইটা আর মুখে দিতে পারিনি। মনে হলো ১০০ টাকা নর্দমার জলে ফেলে দিলাম। এ বাবা ঐটা কি? McDonald's নাকি?! কি মজা! আমি আজকেই Big Mac খাব?! উফফফ কি খিদে!

server - Hello. How may I help you?
আমি - Hi! Can I have a Big Mac Please?
S - Just the sandwich?
আমি- Does it come with anything else?
S- Fries and a Drink?
আমি- For free?
এই রকম উদ্ভট প্রশ্নের সম্মুখীন হয়ত কোনোদিন হতে হয়নি, তাই একটু ভড়কে গিয়ে server হেসে ফেলে বলল, "Yes. wouldn't it be awesome if we didn't have to though?" (আমার এখন মনে হয় যে সে ভেবেছিল এমন প্রশ্ন সিরিয়াসলি হতেই পারে না, মশকরা করছিলাম বোধ হয়)
আমি - খুব uncomfortable একটা হাসি দিয়ে বললাম, "What Kind of Drink?"
server - Whatever pop you want.
আমি - (মনে মনে, "the drink pops?") yes please, I'll have a drink.
Server - ForHereOrToGO?
আমি - huh?
আমি - Sorry, I don't understand what that means.
Server - Would You LIke to Eat it Here? Or would you like to take it to go?
আমি - Here. (দীর্ঘশ্বাস ) I would like to eat it here. Thank you.

McDonald's খাবার কি অপরিসীম তৃপ্তি সেইদিন ই বুঝেছিলাম। দিনের শেষে, কুয়োর ব্যাং সমুদ্র জয় করে ঘরে ফিরল।

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chetan Bhagat - his sanctimonius post, his veiled misogyny, and my response.

Chetan Bhagat, of Indian literature fame, has recently written a blogpost entitled, "Five Things Women Need to Change About Themselves". (Incidentally I found out from one of the comments below that the Times of India also picked up this blog and printed it on the 10th of March, 2013). I really shouldn't care, and a part of me agrees with some of my friends who have said that we, of the more discerning taste, really shouldn't pay him any attention. But, he gets attention. He is just exceptional at PR. He found a void in the world of English literature in India and worked on filling it, got himself a voice and is now using that voice to its greatest potential. He has some hold over the Indian youth, who voraciously read every single one of his books and claim to be a part of the following that he has garnered. That's the problem. The most devastating thing to me though is that by all accounts women make up a significant part of this group.

So, even though I don't have a voice, I as a member of  "women kind" will air my grievances about Bhagat's post.

In Bhagat's defense he did start off by writing a cursory paragraph telling men how to treat women, except at one point he says, "... we as Indian men, have a long way to go before our women can be proud of us." Our? Okay, I may be nitpicking here, and so I'll let this one go and not try to explain to him how misogynistic his perception that Indian men have some sort of proprietary right over Indian women is. Anyway, I digress. I now submit the following responses to each of Bhagat's 5 recommendations to women.

1.  According to you, Mr. Bhagat, the first behaviour that needs to end, is that of women judging other women.  Do you really think that only women are judging other women on the basis of superficial characteristics? How many times have we seen in Bollywood movies that the actress who weighs 5 pounds heavier and/or has dark skin and/or has short hair is playing the role of the lovable nitwit best friend? How many times have we, Indian women, been ridiculed for being too skinny, too fat, too dark, too round-faced, too flat-nosed by our family members, in many cases our own mothers?  Well educated men in every part of India will turn down marriages/proposals simply on the basis that the girl is too dark. So, let's not kid ourselves by pretending that women are victimizing other women, EVERYONE is victimizing women on the basis of appearance. To be fair this is not just endemic to India (although the problem is more severe and in-your-face in India) but women are judged by everyone else (including other women) for their outward appearance everywhere in the world.

2. Apparently women are too "fake" - Mr. Bhagat, in this day and age we all are. Everyone needs to be fake, lie through their teeth, and pretend to laugh at funny jokes their boss makes in order to get ahead in the world. If you aren't fake, you won't get ahead. It's as simple as that. If everyone would say exactly what they were thinking, at exactly that time, then we all would be abrasive jerks. And we all hate abrasive jerks, so we can't be that.  I'll forgive you for this one though, because you've been a famous author for so long now, that you may have forgotten how the real world works.

3. Women need to stand up for their property rights - I agree with you on this. However, you fail to understand that most Indian women inherently place family and community at a higher level than wealth and property. If she is to choose between not losing the relationship with her father or brother, and gaining equal rights to paternal property she would much rather give up the latter. Its not about selflessness, its about value. And in India where property squabbles take years and decades of family feuding and wasting away in the courts system - a woman has much better and far more important things to take care of. I would think that it is preferable to change the system from the other side, where a father would never question the equal right his daughter has to his property, and where a brother would never even place his right to land higher than his sister's. Why not start with changing the male chauvinism when it comes to property rights? It's been a long time since 1828 when Raja Rammohan Roy demanded equal property rights for women. Why is it taking SO LONG?

4. Women need to have ambition and a fire in their belly? - Really now? I mean, I can quite proudly say that I am one of those who have overcome a lot of adversity to get where I am today, but never for a moment will I ever dare to be so sanctimonious as to suggest that women who can't, don't have ambition. What is Malala supposed to do? Learn from the internet or walk to the border? And, you Mr. Bhagat who have spent absolutely no time as a woman, let alone an Indian woman, are going to come out and teach women about ambition? What do you know about what it takes to claw your way out of systemic misogyny and paternalism? Secondly, your suggestion that, only when Indian women will achieve a certain level of success will they be able to command the respect of men, is so far out there that I don't even know where to start. How about teaching men how to respect women irrespective of a random definition of success? I really do wish that you would have better outlined what your definition of success is, because then, I would have demanded an answer to the question, "why can't a woman's success be defined by raising brilliant, respectful, and well rounded children?" 

5. Last but not the least you bring up some convoluted argument about self worth and relationships. You begin by saying, "Being a good mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and lover are extremely important." Umm why? When was the last time you heard a man being defined by the relationship he has with other women? When is a man defined as a "father, husband, son and brother"? And then you go on to speak about sacrifice and how a woman must be selfish. Has it been so long that you have worked in the real world Mr. Bhagat? You must be too busy writing your books to notice that women in India are still today being victimized for being selfish. Women get their shit beaten out of them (pardon my french) for wanting to have a career and be a loving wife and mother. Have you ever seen how women are labelled if they are single and career oriented? They are then too strong willed to find a husband. A strong-willed woman at work is labelled a "Bitch" because she knows how to assert herself. If she's not a "bitch" and wants to go home to be a mother and cook dinner for her kids, then she is too complacent to "really want it". Don't you get the feeling that a woman can never do anything right?

Mr. Bhagat the overarching problems of misogyny that I have tried to condense into a rant and outline above are not specific to India at all. Us, women deal with these problems everyday everywhere (definitely more in India though - cloaked in that ugly facade of tradition). The real answer to the problem is here: we need to work towards making society more open and welcoming to women and more conducive to a woman's idea of a balanced life. You see, women would rather not give up the traits that make us who we are. We would rather have both - a career and a family. We would like to be assertive without being labelled a "bitch". We would like to be able to choose whether or not to have children depending on who we are as individual persons. We would like to be able to be comfortable in our skin. We would like to be able to have the option of not sacrificing our relationships with our brothers to stand up for our equal right to property. We would like to be able to exercise our simple right to choose.

So the next time you try to change women, Mr. Bhagat, look in the mirror at your own "kind". Try to understand why it is that men are the ones who are always standing in the way - why it is that the brothers don't understand their sisters, why the fathers don't value their daughters, and why the husbands don't support their wives. Because, when we fix the problem in one generation, when a son watches his father respect his mother, he will learn to respect his sister, wife and daughter too.

I end by acknowledging my awesome brother, and my amazing husband. Life would be a load of crap without their respect, support and love. Oh, and to all the women: all the phenomenal, wonderful, and strong women, Respect.