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My first love….Travelling

May 16, 2016
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Borobodur Temple (Indonesia) at 5am

Locating Historical Figures within History

January 28, 2016

We often revere or admonish historical figures on the basis of what they said or did. An 18 year old boy – Khudiram Bose – becomes the young face of India’s struggle against the British colonial empire while Frantz Fanon becomes the poster of Black Pride on the basis of what they did (become one of the youngest Indian revolutionary to be hanged) or what they wrote (the bible against colonialism that shed light on the ‘colonized’ minds). However, somewhere down the line one discovers that our inspiring leaders and heros had a dark side too!

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A hero or a casteist? 

Raja Rammohan Roy, who fought for women’s right, championed the cause of widow remarriage and helped ban sati, was someone who took his Brahmin cook everywhere! M.K. Gandhi or Bapu worked with the Dalit community (or Harijans as he called them) and battled one of the world’s largest and most brutal empires non-violently was also a person who probably wasn’t the most progressive person when it came to the role of women. Moreover, recently a bulk of research has focused on Gandhi’s extremely racist stance against the Black South Africans who were suffering under an apartheid regimes (that carried on till the end of the Cold War). Ironically, Nelson Mandela turned to Gandhian ideology in order to fight against the oppressive regime.

I am sure many of you might have come across  and read the article on Winston Churchill by a scholar at Harvard University, titled – Winston Churchill: Britain’s Greatest Briton Left a Legacy of Global Conflict and Crimes Against Humanity. For the descendants of the empire upon whom the sun never sets Churchill is a hero; a man who led Briton’s war efforts against the tyranny of the Nazis. The hat, the obviously well-fed face, his equips have all become immortalized and embedded in the collective memory of Britain. And yet go to anyone, anywhere in the erstwhile empire and you will find nothing but contempt for the man who was nothing less than a pure racist. The Nazis believed in Aryan supremacy and in a way Churchill wasn’t very different. He believed that the ‘coloured’ population of the world were sub-humans, Indians were beasts, Arabs were hooligans and the list can go on forever.

This dichotomy is something that has always perplexed me, not because how can a champion for women’s rights indulge in caste segregation or how can a man fighting for freedom believe that one set of people deserve it while another set does not. Humans are complex creatures and hence the world will be filled with ironies, dichotomies and multiplicities. What left me perplexed was that given these greys in life and human character do we – a) Overlook the shortcomings and focus only on the good or b) Negate the good by focusing on the shortcomings.

Personally, I believe that it is imperative that while trying to evaluate historical figures it is important that we place them in history instead of judging them in vacuum. What this means is that we look at people and the winds of that particular time before judging them. If the positives are seen as views that proved to be breakthroughs in a particular time then the negatives must also be judged on the basis of ‘departures from the collective mindset of the prevailing times’. This does not mean that we ignore or justify or accept the prejudices of the past. It simply means that we place people of the past in the past. We must judge them not according to today’s norms or judge them in vacuum.

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Gandhi: A Non-Violent Liberator or a Racist Xenophobe?

 

The Ignorance of Labels

November 4, 2015

I tend to fall in the same loop when it comes to my blog…over and over again. Trying to handle adult life has left me with no time (and energy) to focus on my blog. However, every now and then I come across an issue that burns my heart and I’m forced to vent out here. Of course, the aim of my posts in not be a rant in the public sphere but to simply analyse the underlying assumptions and problems with a particular issue.

My very dear friend, V, recently posted about an Indian online company that allows you to select your maids on the basis of their region and religion. To be honest this is nothing new, we’ve had ‘maid agencies’ that have been maids selected along the same lines. Moreover, selection of domestic help on the basis of a few identity makers in not limited to India either.

A junior from our alma mater commented on the same post and said, “[T]here is a good reason for why these companies do that and I would say it’s smart of them to.” To which my friend responded that it isn’t smart when discrimination prevents people of certain religions and regions from getting jobs. This soon transpired into a very long private debate over how maids of a ‘certain’ religion were spitting into the food because “their religious texts asked [them] to spit in food before offering it” to a person of a particular religion and given such concerns it’s perfectly fine to make a business model as it will not only benefit the people but also the domestic economy. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the religions I’m referring to!

Before I point out the deeper flaws with this person’s argument let me just highlight that nowhere in the “maid’s religious text” are people of this “certain religion” mentioned. So assuming that people of this ‘book’ are doing that because of religious dictates is simply preposterous. Secondly, let us not judge a whole community of people simply because of the acts of a handful! I mean I’d hate to be referred as a ‘citizen of the land of the rapists’ just because a set of people believe they have a are superior to women and the right to do whatever they want!

However, the issue is far deeper than a debate over what one’s religion says or doesn’t say. Nor is the issue about a company making an online portal that allows you to choose (or not choose) people on the basis of their religion/culture/caste/personal eating habits. Of course, it would be preposterous if tomorrow one came up with a job portal wherein Google’s and BCGs of the world had a similar selection criteria! The issue at hand is that we as humans still are victims, and in turn victimize others, because we’re prejudiced and like to stereotype people. The fact that you want to choose a house help not on the basis of his/her timeliness, work ethics, cleanliness or personality but simply on what his/her religion or ethnicity is. The same middle class that fights against reservation and demands for ‘merit’ based admission wants to choose their domestic help not on the basis of merit but on personal identity markers?!

stereotypeThe company’s online model just shows that these prejudices exist to such a level that you can make a successful business model to exploit these ‘concerns’. It’s not the company that I’m blaming, at least not completely, it’s the consumers (people) that I’m blaming. Despite all the Human Rights conventions and movements against all forms of discrimination people across the world are facing discriminations in newer and more subtle forms. May it be in the form of racial profiling at an airport, police brutalities in the US against a particular race, gender inequality or lynching of a person because he was suspected to have consumed beef.

Even today we don’t want to rent out our houses to certain people because we’re afraid that they might be terrorists or simply because we believe they’re unclean. At the same time we want to create such a hue and cry about the discrimination that we ourselves face. Let me narrate a personal incident to illustrate the same. After having completed my education in Singapore I got a job here. I telling two Indian acquaintances (friends of my flatmate) that finding a house was such a hassle. A lot of ads clearly mention that they don’t want people belonging to certain ethnicities, especially Indians. As a result finding a good house was a back-breaking task! Finally, while renting a house I asked my American friend and flatmate to negotiate with the landlords and agent so that we could get a house (thankfully we did). As a human being I’m simply appalled by how people can just exclude people like this. They didn’t bother asking me if I was a clean person or judged me on the basis of how I presented myself. They just barred me from applying. This story was obviously met with a lot of “tsk, tsk”, “OMG”, “so racist” and “Isn’t that illegal?!”. However, as the conversation jumped from one topic to another we landed on the issue of maids and how the two (a married couple) wanted to hire a maid. They wanted an Indian maid because they want her to cook but categorically do not want a Punjabi “because they have boyfriends and are unreliable”. Instead they wanted a “South Indian maid since they’re docile”. To say the least my friend and I were aghast! They in a jiffy painted all Punjabi women in a negative light (though personally I don’t see the harm in someone having a boyfriend). Of course, the other problem with what they had said was that they wanted a “docile” maid…whatever that means!

Can we not see beyond these man-made barriers? Why is it that in our day-to-day interactions we need to put labels on people and deny respect and equal rights on the basis of them? Also if you want to defend your right to discriminate don’t complain when someone dishes out the same!

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Lost in Translation

April 22, 2014

Korean_cuisine-Jeonju_bibimbap-01Travelling is a great learning experience, we all agree. Travelling alone is a far greater experience, I learnt the hard way.

At a very tender age, I was introduced to two mind games- Chess and Go. Among other things, games have given me an opportunity to travel extensively both within the country and to various parts of the world- UK, Spain, France, Switzerland, Japan and Korea among others.

Travelling has been an enjoyable learning experience and an opportunity to meet people from across the globe. Every time I travelled to another country to participate in a tournament, it opened my eyes to the big, vast world and gave me an opportunity to learn about new cultures and people.

I distinctly remember my trip to South Korea to represent my country at the King’s Asian Baduk Championship. I was still to turn 16 and had to travel alone as my team mate had to opt out at the last minute. To compound matters, the schedule on arrival at Seoul was changed without any intimation to me. When I landed at the Incheon airport, to my horror, I found that the designated counter where I was to meet my hosts was shut down. I realised I was lost, lost in transition, lost in translation in South Korea.

It was now getting late, really late. I made frantic calls to the Indian embassy only to realise that the embassy was closed over the weekend. It wasn’t really my day.  After four long gruelling hours, I managed to get to the tournament organizers. It was not easy, tackling the language barrier, but was finally able to inform them that I was stranded at the airport.

The tournament organisers were extremely courteous and efficient. They gave me clear travel directions in English. I had to travel to another city at night so that I could reach in time for the tournament. With the help of the airport staff, I managed to get into a bus and travel from Incheon to Jeonju, all alone. I had never been allowed to travel alone even in my own city, leave another country.

During the long bus ride we stopped only once. I was extremely hungry and finally when the bus stopped, I got off to grab something to eat.  I felt uneasy, out of my comfort zone. It was clear that I was far away from home, far away from anything familiar.

At the live counters, I saw a man cutting-up an eel, I had only seen them in School laboratory till now.The next stall was serving a form of rice cakes, or so I believe and another was selling Bibimbap. Nothing made sense to me. Finally, I found a 24×7 shop that among other things was selling chips. I grabbed a few as I had nothing to eat due to the chaos and confusion of being lost in an alien world.  When I finally sat in the bus and opened the packet I found that they were not potato chips as expected, instead sweet potato chips- a first!

After spending the night in the bus, staring at a country that looked so different from mine, particulary in the dark night, I finally reached my hotel safely with the first rays of sun.

It was just the beginning of a weeklong learning experience and I had already been exposed to the Korean people and their friendly, helpful nature. The long drive had introduced me to Korean pop, as the music blazed in the bus, green tea and salted sea-weed as snacks and a completely different lifestyle!

The half-day lost in translation in Korea was probably the best thing that happened to me. Next morning, I found many fellow players inquiring about my well being as the story of the Indian girl lost in transition and translation had circulated fast.  I had already made many new friends- friends from Singapore, China, Thailand, Macau among others and enjoyed the stay thoroughly. I no longer felt lost but could feel the warmth of friendship.

Had I not gotten lost at the airport and then taken a bus to another city all alone at night, I would have only seen the country as a tourist. Lost in translation helped me understand a little known culture and people and I thoroughly enjoyed the next one week.

It is an experience that I’ll cherish telling my children as I made life long friends whose friendship I enjoy to this day even though we stay in different worlds.  Over the years, I have imbibed so much from other cultures through my travelling- I have learnt to appreciate different beliefs, costumes, cuisine and traditions and most importantly never to give up in adversity.

Adding a little colour to life

March 17, 2014

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I still remember the first holi I ever blogged about some three years ago. It was all about keeping it simple, not playing it the tradition way but instead enjoying the flowers that would be in bloom in my garden or Lodhi garden. Three years down the line here I am blogging about what is going to be a completely different holi!

For the past two year, this being the third, my college friends and I have always met up on holi and made sure we go total crazy. For the few hours that we’re together ruining each other’s face and hair and back with permanent colour it feels like we’re still together in college even though college seems like a distant dream now. Its fun to know that as friends we guys can still meet up one fine day and feel like nothing ever changed except for the colour of our faces!

This is not to say that I no longer enjoy looking at nature, sitting midst vast flower fields. In fact, only yesterday was I at the Mughal Gardens, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The very sight of flowers gets me crazy and I guess that is why spring is my favourite season. Too bad that it lasts for a very short time.

Its not just the popping up of vibrant hues in my garden that herald the arrival spring but also the first bucket of cold water poured down your shirt that kicks you in the @$$ while announcing, “Guys, spring is here!” 

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This is exactly how we’ll look…without the torn shirts

So here I am blogging and at the same time greasing myself up so that the colours don’t stick but I still know that I’ll be coming back looking like a baingan

Sadly the saga continues…….

March 12, 2014

Every time a woman is raped, every time a woman is harassed or molested one finds the media abuzz with people demanding justice. On the streets we see candle light marches with men and women, young and the elderly together with posters and chants asking the government and police to ensure that there is justice and no crimes against women.

I wonder at times, and more so after what I recently came across, that is any government or police force capable of ending crimes against women? Can a law, state directives, government polices and a bunch of men with lathis really resolve this huge problem that not only plagues India but the whole world?

I’ve had this argument a number of times with my friends and peers that what can an institution do if the society that very institution represents believes that women are not equal and therefore rightfully at the receiving end of such crimes?! What can the police really do if your father, husband, boyfriend thinks that it is ok to hit you, ok to kill you cause you ran away with a person from another caste or religion, ok to tell you that now you’re married and therefore need not work?

The first counter argument to the above set of questions would be that they could enforce the rule of law more effectively so that it proves to be a deterrence to people. But do you really believe that sending a person from a khap panchayat who believes in “Honour Killing” (I call it cold-bloodied murder) will be deterred by law? For him this messed up notion of honour is far greater than anything the IPC has to say. And wait do we stop doing things we truly believe are right just cause another person told them it is wrong?

Where is all this coming from, AN? Y U so angry? Well it’s cause I’m super pissed. I guess I’ve been disillusioned for the longest time. I believed that I had friends..not just friends but a circle of people..who understood this. Understood that women are not an object, that women wearing certain kinds of clothes, drinking alcohol, etc is not an invitation to rape or ‘slut shamming’. But guess I was wrong, so very wrong!

I a few days ago got up with a very sad reality dawning upon me. I was in the midst of extremely disturbed and misogynistic people. A bunch of people who were aware of their female friend being molested by a guy, the girl being traumatized by it and her being under therapy!

I was and am angry, shocked and hurt! Pained by what happened and what I later came across when I tried to raise my voice. A girl whom you’ve called a ‘bro’ for months was one night groped by a very close friend- both under the influence of alcohol. Yo may wonder why I mentioned alcohol. Well that is because for other people it’s a reason to excuse what happened AND blame the girl for not being careful enough.

Sounds so very familiar, right? We read such things every single day in the newspaper, online, but you have this belief that somehow your set of friends wouldn’t be like this. That they will always be there for you cause after all they are well-educated people who have had the same exposure as me. But then realizing that your belief was based on complete bullshit!

When you are going to go around telling people to come together and ensure that this matter is not shushed, that the authorities take serious action against the perpetrator you get to know that they will say “hey he was drunk” or “Forget it” or even worse “Don’t victimize him, she also should have been a little more careful after all you wouldn’t put yourself in such a situation”.

Such this have happened, happen and will continue to happen. You will be pissed, devastated and let down when you take up such a case. But you know what it is important for us to continue these battles.

I know this is just a rant. But I really need to vent out the anger and pain.

 

A brave, bold voice!

February 23, 2014

Long time ago I wrote about why pornography should be legal while a large part of India was still hung-up about the pact that three MLA’s were watching porn in the Karnataka Assembly. The huge uproar had, I felt and still do, distracted people from the main point- how do we treat and understand sex workers.

Today I came across a wonderful post written by a student of the highly prestigious Duke University (US) who happens to have entered the porn industry so that she could pay for her education. While you might think that her post might be about the exploitation and abuse that she has had to undergo..well you are right but the exploitation hasn’t been at the hands of the people in the sex-industry instead she has been bullied, shamed and what-not by so-called everyday folks like you and me.

It’s a wonderfully written articles that hits the nail right on the head:-

Duke University Freshman Porn Star- a must read