Monday, June 27, 2011



This post is just to inform you that I have now shifted gear from Blogpost to WordPress.
You can now catch my blog here.

Here is the link to my latest post: Of slutty, loose and characterless women

Please do read. Comments/criticism is always welcome.

Hope to stay in touch.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Of working, cooking and more

Apparently, a lot of people have been restlessly urging me to update my blog. This has happened before but not to extent of getting random, sometimes anonymous, requests, messages and tweets from people I do not know expressing their delight in reading my rants.

I have no clue whether this is a cause enough to be flattered. But I’m sure conscious of what I rant from now on, which, I would like to believe, is a good thing.

Since I have been spending some quality time in my office and living on my own these days, I thought I’d be logical enough to rant about the same.

It’s a little exhausting to describe work and whether or not I’m “enjoying” it. These are too strong words to use for an endeavour that has barely lasted for 2 weeks now. Meanwhile, I have been constantly avoiding having to answer that question to my friends and colleagues saying: “It’s too early to say”, completely aware that time and tide wait for no one and soon this excuse (if you will) would become too stale for usage.

More than entering into the “big bad world” of the media industry and having to face the ups and downs of my first job, this is also the first time that I have ventured into the domain of living by myself. And that doesn’t just mean living alone without a roommate. It means to live alone, cook, clean, organize, maintain and take care of the “household”—a term that never had space in my life until now.

Cooking—another domain I was alien to, or let’s just say I never explored or felt the need to.

But now when my hungry stomach growls and I don’t have the hostel food waiting for me downstairs in the dining hall, I realize that it is high time I move my ass to the kitchen and make something edible out of scratch. I wouldn’t be a fuss and frankly admit that it sure is thrilling. To observe how something so raw can be converted into something deliciously digestible, to feel a sense of deep satisfaction that the food I’m consuming is actually because of the efforts I took for it to happen, to gape at how a simple gas can work wonders and produce a cartload of dishes only if you know how to do it right—it’s pretty exciting. Of course there are mistakes, scratches, cuts and burns here and there. But it feels good. In a strange way, it feels mature. Oddly enough, it makes me feel old too. And I’m trying to make my peace with that.

Cooking also needs calculation. One needs to know the quantity in order to produce quality. While the latter is achievable, the former is messed up every now and then. Since I have to cook only for myself, there are a few troubles that need to be taken before I begin the actual procedure of cooking. It just seems a tad little too much fuss to make that extra effort when I know I’m the only one who’s going to consume it. When you live alone, you begin taking yourself for granted. And, often, salad begins to look like a luxury. You end up concluding that rice and some random curry is more than enough. Chapati, dal and raita—they seem like things to be prepared on some “special” occasion (and God knows when that’ll come!)

In short, I get too lazy to take that fuss. Obviously it isn’t a good thing if it happens on a daily basis and I’m trying to avoid that. But nothing pisses me more these days than leftover food. And if I miscalculate just a little, which happens almost all the time, something or the other stays back in the kitchen only to become a victim of my forgetfulness and, consequently, the staple food of the most regular resident and visitor of my house—the ants.

Besides the challenge of cooking, I have suddenly been thrown into the world of “bills”. Electricity bill, water bill, property tax bill, maintenance charge, drainage fee, newspaper bill, milk bill, vegetable bill (the list is endless). Again, another factor that makes me realize, that I have reached a stage where I need to understand the economics of spending and saving. I’m not unfamiliar to either but this is the first time when the basis of the same would be the money that I earn and not what my father (used to) earn.

Speaking of money, nothing in life is free. Everything comes at a price and let’s not make Madurai, as an expensive city, become any factor here, for the time being. And the price, speaking monetarily, obviously comes from the work I do. I remember frowning at page designing when I was made the sub-editor in college during our in-house publication days. I was willing to do anything but that, primarily because of my technically challenged nature. And here I am, designing pages six days a week on Adobe InDesign CS3 before editing copies that are sometimes so bad that one wonders if the reporter was taught the basic difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ or ‘therefore’ and ‘meanwhile’ or ‘instead of’ and ‘despite that’. Oh and by the way, if any reporter is reading this, please note that there is no phrase as ‘Despites of that’.

In a way, it’s good that these mistakes are made. I wouldn’t have any work if they don’t err. My job depends on their flaws so I could clean them and turn them into a publishable story. Meanwhile, to be a “publishable” story does not require much effort these days. Or so it seems in the newspaper that I work for. No one follows the Associated Press (AP) style of English grammar here, sources are often unnamed, there are no quotes (I deliberately introduce them when I edit) and you’d be lucky to find any attribution that has a proper name to it. In short, all I learned about editing rules do not apply here coz the rules are completely different here. Or should I say there aren’t any rules at all?

It’s easy to question a lot of stuff going in my personal and professional life right now and hence I’m trying to cut that down and focus more on the other things that life is demanding if me with each passing day. It’s unbelievable how, while typing this, I’m simultaneously thinking what to make for tonight’s dinner so I could pack and take it to office. Maybe tonight I’ll give paneer a chance. I need to put on some weight to bear the heavy weight of what they call “life”.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Of mosquitoes, cockroaches and 'work'

Disclaimer: This is not a moan of complaint but a rather objective report of the happenings of my life in the recent times. Kindly do not take it otherwise. I can’t help it even if you do!

                           Blogging after so long makes me feel human again. And the fact that I can access the net on my laptop makes me feel like I can breathe. Both these are essential factors considering the conditions I’m currently living in. I’m using the word “conditions” with a purpose, ladies and gentlemen. After having searched for a ‘decent’ accommodation in land of Tories (I’m in Madurai, FYI) and all in vain (the concept of a single girl living alone in a flat is both alien and bizarre to the Madurai men who handle most of these decisions), I had to succumb to my distant relatives—relatives I last saw when I was a 2-year-old kid; relatives we hardly were in touch with until I turned 22 and was in a desperate need for a roof above my head. Turns out there was a roof and that’s where I’m putting up, temporarily, until a particular tenant (I call him an ass for my own convenience) vacates the only flat we manages to book and finalize. And that will happen only once the month ends. Until then, my company is a joint family, including a 1.5-year old kid who wails every night when the mosquito attack begins. While she uses tears as a defence mechanism, I use curse and swear (one of the rare things I’m reasonably good at).

                           I’m also served a variety of vegetables here, including some with whom I had broken up years ago, some I had a strong hate relationship with and a few whom I have never consumed in my lifetime. I get access to coffee whenever I want. Of course as long as it matches with some auspicious time calculated by an antique calendar kept in the storehouse. Sometimes, it becomes a challenge to use the toilet in the evenings as that’s the den of a group of cockroaches. Free time (if any) is constructivelt put to use by playing carom with the other seventh grade kid, until the wailing baby decides to not wail but play by sitting right in the middle of the carom board.

                           Yesterday, amidst all this drama, was my first day in office. I got about four calls and five SMSes from friends and family wishing me all the luck to show my ‘calibre’ at my workplace. I was a little messed up and zapped as not only was this going to be my first day, but I was supposed to be bidding goodbye to my father. To be fair, I took it pretty well. The voice may have broken but the water never came. I’m almost proud of my maturity (yes, I would like to call it that).

                           After completing all the formalities of handling over mark sheets and certificates, I was shown my department. Oh! But before I begin to narrate that, I need to provide an objective report of my office too, isn’t it? Well, my office resembles an old, isolated government bank sans AC. The location of my office adds to the misery of travelling (it’s on NH49 en route Rameshwaram). Add to that my working hours: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. So, now does it make sense when I say no one was willing to rent out a flat to me? No? Good. Coz it doesn’t make any sense to me either.

                           Anyways, mosquitoes are an integral part of my life, apparently. They are there in the house I'm residing in. They are there in my office too. Clearly, they seem to enjoy the taste of blood.

                           Once my father left, I was shown my department (the editorial din) and introduced to my fellow colleagues, whose names I forgot as soon as I heard them. I humbly asked which of the five systems would be mine. None, I was told. I would be occupying the system that’s vacant when I come. Fair enough, I inferred. However, the only vacant system that I was allowed to occupy was out of order. I was asked to read the papers until the system was repaired. I happily nodded and began what was going to be a 2 hour wait.

                           The repair engineer came only after the aforementioned time. I spent those 2 hours (maybe even more) reading and re-reading Deccan Chronicle, The Hindu and The New Indian Express, solving Sudoku and killing a total of three mosquitoes. Finally, when the system started working fine, I was summoned and told to begin ‘work’. Clueless as I was, I simply stared at the monitor. I was given a practise copy to edit, which I did in about 15 minutes. More than happy to flaunt my ‘work’, when I announced I was done, they said I could leave. It was only 8 p.m. I concluded that I probably did not edit properly and that’s how they punish weak performers. But the reason for my early exit turned out to be otherwise. Since they hadn’t been able to arrange suitable transport while returning, I was advised to leave early for today so I could catch a bus/auto and reach home ‘safely’. I nodded and left, having understood the way back home.

                           I waited for almost 20 minutes for a bus on that highway in the dark. But the fact that I know the local language somehow gives me a sense of assurance that nothing can possibly go wrong. And it didn’t. So there you go. My first day in office was over. And the one word to best describe it would be: unproductive.

                           Real work begins today. Or should I say tonight? I guess I should stop typing coz it really seems like a task to be working on my laptop with a kid so eager to ruin it. Also when she’s on a pissing spree all over the house.


Friday, April 22, 2011

It's fiction time!

I admit I haven’t been blogging enough. What a shame! My hands itch everyday for blogging and I invest precious time contemplating on unwanted issues—yet another of my all-time favourite pastimes.

So, I decided to give myself a break and write fiction :o)

Sometimes, weaving a story is easy. But to end it is what makes it a tad difficult. This time I have tried to be more graphic in describing details. Perhaps I need to get back at reading some erotica. My ability in the same seems to suffer drastically.

There’s no real beginning or end to this one. I guess I was too inspired by Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness, though I must confess I ain’t no modernist. Nor do I aspire to be one. Peace!

By the way, this piece was written almost five weeks ago. Until I remembered where I had hidden it in my cluttered folder. So, it might be outdated for some.

Comments/feedback/criticism is always welcome.


The rain doesn't help


One look at us that rainy night would have cleared any lunatic’s doubts regarding how far I have stretched it now. Maybe I was desperate. May be it happened coz deep down the line I knew this was my only chance.

My only chance. To see him. To meet him. To spend time with him. To touch him and let him touch me. To hug him and be hugged back.

Picture courtesy Google Images
The rain didn’t help. The chill, which was running down my spine every time I neared him, didn’t either. Neither did the enormity of his presence so near me.

As I inched closer, I felt warmer. As his arms surrounded me, I felt safer. As I lay my head on his shoulder, I felt lighter. The more I could hear his heart beat, the more I could feel mine. As I apologized, I wasn’t apologizing for this. I was apologizing for the fact that I can never have any of these the way I wanted it. Coz they are not, and would never be, meant for me.

As the vehicle moved towards my destination, I prayed it would never stop. I prayed it would get lost in the darkness of the night. I prayed there would be traffic on the way. Anything to delay this. I didn’t want it to end. And the fact that my destination was nearing was not going to make that happen.

I never wanted that embrace to leave me. I never wanted that touch to go. I never wanted those hands to leave me. My hands, my face.

And yet they did. And it was so final that even tears refused to make their presence felt on the face of its finality.

When we reached, I knew the time had come. I knew I had to bid him goodbye. When he hugged me back, I felt I had lost everything. Almost everything in life. He hugged me so tight I was ready to die. It wouldn’t even have mattered coz I had achieved what I thought I never deserved or was even entitled to.

I never let him go. It was getting late. He had to head back home. He had to leave. It was more final than anything.

That night, for the first time, I realized how difficult it must have been for him. 

To be in love with someone, and for so long. And here he was, with me—the woman he is not in love with; the woman he could never love. To break free of her claustrophobic obsession. To break free of her tight embrace—so tight she would have never let go had his safety not occurred her little left sense. To break free of a woman so stupid to actually give him the advantage. And willingly so.

I can still sense that hug. And when I need it, I can even re-live those fifteen seconds of warmth again. But will that quench my thirst? Yes. The rain doesn't help.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Of baby girls and their disappearance

The Census 2011 report has confirmed that India is growing by leaps and bounds. Second only to China in terms of head count, India is officially home to 1.21 billion people, an increase of 181 million with a growth rate of 17.64 percent, since 2001. However, a closer examination of those figures shows that the male-female ratio for children (0-6 years) born in that decade is the worst since independence. For every 1,000 boys, there are only 914, a decline of 1.4 percent from the 2001 census figures (927 girls per 1000 boys). For a country that aims to become a superpower by 2020, these figures are alarming indeed.

While the country’s cultural and largely patriarchal mindset is being unanimously blamed for this decline, one look at the sex ratio in different parts of the country will shed any illusions that the problem is rooted solely in rural India. Punjab and Haryana, notoriously famous for a strictly male-oriented society, have recorded an improved sex ratio since 2001 census. Even so, the two districts in India with the worst sex ratio—Mahendragarh and Jhajjar—are, paradoxically, both in Haryana. 

Picture courtesy Google Images

Compare this with Mumbai—the commercial capital of the country that is known to bask in its affluence and extravaganza. There are 838 females per 1000 males in Maharashtra’s capital city. Even nearby cities and districts like Pune, Thane and Aurangabad do not have a very healthy sex ratio, suggestive of prenatal sex centers that are involved in illegal activities like sex determination of the child during pregnancy. Middle class and affluent families, wrongly assumed to be liberal and open-minded owing to their economically stable social status, are among the worst offenders, as is visibly evident from the declining sex ratio.   

The insistence on having a male child, who shall continue the family’s name and become an heir, has proved to be a major hindrance to the birth and survival of girls. In a time span of ten years, instead of promoting and encouraging women’s liberation and emancipation, India is killing girl children even before they are born.
On the brighter side, a high sex ratio has been witnessed in backward tribal districts of Gadchiroli (975), Nandurbar (972), Gondiya (996), Ratnagiri (1,123) and Sindhudurg (1,037). Interestingly, all these districts are also located in the state of Maharashtra. Perhaps tribal culture is not as patriarchal and male-dominated in its mindset as the others. However, whatever may be the cause, the urban sector is performing no better than its rural counterpart when it comes to sex ratio in a country as large and diverse as India.  

India’s declining sex ratio should serve as wake-up call for society, in general. Our stubborn determination to promote and encourage the birth of a male child casts the female child as a burden, not a blessing.
Taslima Nasreen, writer and feminist, once Tweeted on the status of women in our country: “If they survive foeticide, they don't survive honour killing. If they survive honour killing, they don't survive dowry death." The life of a girl in our country seems to resemble an everyday battle. If such trends continue in 21st century India, basking in the glory of an envious economic growth, the day is not far off when Indian men will be lucky to find a woman to marry. The country must let go of its archaic mindset. The clock is ticking. We cannot let girls become endangered.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Feminism, Education and India

Hello readers! The following post was published on Gender Across Borders and Equality 101 as part of Feminism and Education Series, currently going on (March 28-29, 2010). Do check out other posts and participate in the discussion. Happy reading!

This post is by Deepa Ranganathan is a part of the Feminism & Education series jointly hosted by Equality 101 and Gender Across Borders.

Feminism is a tricky word. And from what I, as a woman first and a feminist later, have observed, most don’t even know what it really means. People aren’t aware of its complexity and its often contradicting school of thoughts before they either use it or identify as a “feminist.”

More often than not, there is an undeniable level of hesitation and even fear to identify as feminist. During a discussion on women’s liberation and the empowerment of womanhood on the ‘occasion’ of International Women’s Day in my class, I heard some valid arguments and points being made by my classmates. However, every statement began with the following clarification: “I’m not a feminist but I feel…” or “I’m no feminist or believer of feminism but one needs to look at…” Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out the need to be aloof from this particular school of thought, when no one seems to mind being labeled as a Marxist, communist, socialist or even an atheist.

So, why is there this reluctance? Why is it so hard to accept (forget about being proud of it) that one is a feminist? And no, this is a case not just with men, who might throw open the baseless argument of being termed as effeminate by defending the rights of women, but women themselves who prefer shying away from being labeled as a ‘feminist’. The problem lies in the perspective. Being called a feminist is almost seen as being a rebel without a cause. Perhaps this is a consequence of the entire movement of feminism that began as early as the eighteenth century, now reduced to a state of dormancy and superficiality. In India today, Women’s Day is ‘celebrated’ by inviting a few socialites and Bollywood divas on a “panel” to discuss what we, as a gender, have achieved over the years in terms of women’s liberation and what still needs to be done, and how scary and dangerous women still feel in the 21st Century India. What about the million other women who feel insecure 24*7 and do not even have the promise of economic affluence? Kalpana Sharma, an independent journalist who writes on women’s issues, raises these crucial points in her essay Women’s Day Circus:

The crux of the matter is that feminism is not recognized as important and necessary enough to be included in the everyday curriculum, which is bizarre given that gender roles are assigned and fed into right from the moment a child is born. Most don’t know the difference between sex and gender, the first thing you ought to be aware of when living in a harmonious, civilized society. Children, regardless of their sex (and not gender), have to be made aware of the historical, cultural and social difference between the two at an elementary level so as to look at the world and things from a more balanced, and hence nuanced perspective.

Feminism has and continues to affect our education no matter how much one shies away from it. Depending on education background, education experience varies (for example: the experience and understanding of gender equality of someone who attends a co-ed school is different than a single-sex school). Whether it is for the better or worse, it has been proved that a co-ed education does not necessarily ensure better knowledge and grasp of gender issues. However, knowledge and awareness of certain issues right at an early stage of a child’s growth and development is critical.

Sex education is a significant case in point. Interestingly, sex or talking about sex openly is still a taboo in India, a country well on its way to becoming the most populous country in the world! We have extremists, fundamentalists, fanatics popping out of thin air opposing vehemently to the idea of sex education in a culture-loving India that will not tolerate any Western idea or concept in its archaic way of functioning. Meanwhile, no one has to acknowledge that Indian law is over centuries old, designed and framed largely by the British during their colonial rule in India. There is a gross confusion between sex education and education about sex, per se. One does not realize the importance, nay the necessity for sex education. Though the right age to begin the same is still being discussed, the intention behind the whole idea cannot be frowned upon.

Most believers of any feminist ideology (liberal, socialist, radical, to name a few) completely overlook the factor that feminism comprises of both genders, and not just women. If the intention is to liberate one gender, the idea should also be to liberate the other. The accusation, largely, has been that men have been responsible for the oppression of women. This is historically true. But one cannot oversee that women themselves are also to be blamed for their own subjugation, according to John Stuart Mill’s theory that holds true in almost every context, culture and country.

Calling someone a feminist seems to be like calling someone something derogatory, like you’ve just been called a Dalit or an untouchable. And the irony is that the one who calls you that himself/herself doesn’t know what it means, what it demands and what it requires to be a feminist. In the true sense. To raise your voice about the plight of women on International Women’s Day every year does not make you a feminist. Neither does blaming the men for every oppression women go through. And the first step towards bridging this disparity and disconnection would be to make students and children aware of issues of feminist concern at an age where they will be able to grasp gender differences, if not agree with them.

Deepa Ranganathan is a trainee journalist currently residing in Bangalore. Brought up in a small town called Jamshedpur in East India, she graduated from Miranda House, University of Delhi with a BA in English Literature and pursued a PG Diploma in Print Journalism from the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, Bangalore. Feminism is one of the many literary theories she enjoys reading and writing about.

Catch the article on Gender Across Border and Equality 101

Awaiting feedback/comments/criticism.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The heart of darkness [Book Review]

The fate of Lucie Blackman is so intense, deep and unimaginable that perhaps even a book written about it does little justice to it. In 2000, a 21-year old tall, blonde, British woman decided to go to Japan, one of the world’s most expensive and populous countries, with her best friend Louise Philips in search of economic and job security and found herself working as a “hostess” in a night club in Roppongi district. Months after her arrival in a country so different from her own in culture, cuisine and colour, Lucie disappears under mysterious circumstances. Police investigations follow, under strict media and international pressure, until the killer is finally nabbed only to be convicted of every murder except that of Miss Blackman. There is no doubt about Parry’s rich and riveting story-telling technique that keeps you glued throughout the narrative. But it would be unfair to not acknowledge the Blackmans’ awful fate and trial that helped him in some ways by providing him with a story and plot replete with mystery, intrigue, darkness and horror. 

The story of Lucie Blackman isn’t unusual. It is her awful fate that stands out. There is always the lingering feeling of what would have happened had she not fallen into debt, gone to Tokyo, accompanied Joji Obara, the serial killer and rapist, on that fateful day. And that is what makes the story poignant to the core. The complexities attached with the Lucie’s job as a “hostess”, particularly in the context of Japanese society and culture is well-explained by the author. Lucie’s job mainly involved talking to the client and be simultaneously flirtatious with them, unlike what a traditional bar girl or dancer is expected to do. Pressured to get dohans—dinner with the client—Lucie was simply doing her job when she accompanied a mysterious man to his apartment at Zushi Marina, the man who would later be responsible for her rape, death and slaughter.

The pace of the police investigations that follows is almost as bizarre as Lucie’s fate. Undeterred by the amount of media coverage that the case garnered both in Japan and Britain, so much so that Tony Blair pressured the then Japan Prime Minister to look into the speediness of the case, the police did its work and did it well in its own slow fashion. Parry is openly critical of the Japanese police, not the people who run the system but the system itself that is so nonchalantly caught in a web of lethargy, complacency and complete indifference. Ironically, as Parry points out, Japan has one of the world’s least crime rates; a possible explanation for the police’s lackadaisical attitude, as he observes, is sheer lack of practice. The frustration of a missing case taking so long to uncover is conveyed well, inviting the readers to feel the same.

Narrating every minute detail about Lucie’s early life to her adolescence, Parry tries hard to sketch a picture of a woman who met such ill-fate. The story is narrated like a tale, except that the reader already knows what happened and what is possibly going to happen assuming that he/she was following the case and media’s coverage of it.  Ample space is given to her childhood, her years in Britain and in Tokyo, her mysterious disappearance, the police investigation and the courtroom drama that followed. Parry has been successful in generating a feeling of extreme annoyance and impatience while one reads through the novel, one of the many feelings the Blackmans and Ridgways might have felt when they themselves underwent the trauma. The author ensures that the reader doesn’t make any assumption and that is visible in the enormous amount of research, reading, observation and notes-taking that went in the making of this book.

As a journalist, perhaps Parry is expected to have reasonably good observational skills. However, the vividness of his style that describes the view of Tokyo, the night life on the streets of Roppongi and the colourful and extravagant bars and clubs adds a touch of novel-writing in his style. However, Parry has been careful enough not to write in a dramatic or melodramatic manner else the story slip into the oblivions of fiction. Right from the beginning till the end, the story remains true to the genre it claims it belongs to—true crime. And truth, as is narrated and absorbed, is stranger than fiction. 

The author has made a commendable effort to understand the psyche, if one may use the term, of Lucie Blackman’s killer, Joji Obara, the man who refused to confess and lived a life sans friends and companions. Abstaining from associating the term ‘psychopath’ with the serial killer and rapist, the author has described Obara’s history of sexual crimes in the most graphic manner. Belonging to the community of Zainichi, ethnic Koreans of Japan, and perhaps a victim of the historical strife between the two nations, an attempt to understand Obara’s life and the way he lead it is almost as impossible and unfathomable as understanding why he committed such crimes. 

It would be unfair to not mention Parry’s biasness, if any. Lucie’s father, Tim Blackman, was and has been collectively accused by friends, family and the media itself for being the “unconventional father”, for being so media-savvy in moments of private grief and withdrawal and for accepting money from Obara, to bury the case. Parry raises a significant point at Tim’s critics who label him as “immoral”, stating that one who hasn’t been through the kind of trauma that Tim and the Blackmans went through, will never know how to react and behave in such a situation. While there is enough credit in this, Parry falls short of any justification or explanation for Jane’s behaviour, Lucie’s mother accused of being possessive, overprotective and violently reactive of her daughter’s disappearance and death. Instead, he gives us quotes from Sophie, Lucie’s sister, who, from the very beginning as it has been stated, never got along with her mother.

Early on in the story, Sophie, a product of a marriage that went horribly wrong, makes a profound statement: “A divorce makes you question everything.” This sets the tone of the story and what is to follow; how much the bitter marriage of the parents is going to affect the trial that the broken Blackman family is going to undergo themselves. The dismemberment of Lucie’s body, as revealed later, ironically and poignantly, becomes a manifestation of the dismemberment of the family that forces desperately to be with each other with the knowledge that that is never going to happen. Lucie Blackman’s fate is disturbingly compelling. And so is Parry’s writing.

Disclaimer: Rough draft. Badly needs editing. Would appreciate comments.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Of feminism and being called a 'feminist'

Feminism is a tricky word. And from what I, as a woman first and a feminist later, have observed,  is that most don’t even know what it really means. They aren’t aware of its complexity, its various, often contradicting school of thoughts before they either use it or call themselves ‘feminists’. But, that itself is so rare that I’d rather acknowledge its presence than question its authenticity. More often than not, there is an undeniable level of hesitation, maybe even fear to accept that one is a feminist. During a discussion on women’s liberation and the empowerment of womanhood on the ‘occasion’ of International Women’s Day, I heard some very valid arguments and points being made by my classmates. However, every statement began with the following clarification: “I’m not a feminist but I feel…” or “I’m no feminist or believer of feminism but one needs to look at…” Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out the need to be aloof from this particular school of thought, when no one seems to mind being labeled as a Marxist, communist, socialist or even an atheist.

So, why is there this reluctance? Why is it so hard to accept (forget being proud of it) that one is a feminist? And no, this is not a case plaguing the men alone, who might throw open the baseless argument of being termed as effeminate by defending the rights of women, but women themselves who prefer shying away from being labeled as a ‘feminist’. The problem lies in the perspective. Being called a feminist is almost seen as being a rebel without a cause. Perhaps this is a consequence of the entire movement of feminism ,that began as early as the eighteenth century, now reduced to a state of dormancy and superficiality. Today, Women’s Day is ‘celebrated’ by inviting a few socialites and Bollywood divas in a “panel” to discuss what have we achieved over the years, in terms of women’s liberation and what still needs to be done. These women tell us how scary and dangerous they still feel in a 21st Century India, to go out late night clubbing. What about the million other women who feel insecure 24*7 and do not even have the promise of economic affluence? Kalpana Sharma raises these crucial points in her essay Women’s Day Circus.

Most believers of any feminist ideology (liberal, socialist, radical, to name a few) completely overlook the factor that feminism comprises of both the sexes, and not just the female. If the intention is to liberate one, the idea should also be to deal with the other. The accusation, largely, has been that men have been responsible for the oppression of women. This is historically true. But one cannot oversee that women themselves are also to be blamed for their own subjugation, according to John Stuart Mill’s theory that holds true in almost every context, culture and country.

Calling someone a feminist seems to be like calling someone something derogatory. Like you’ve just been called a Dalit or an untouchable. And the irony is that the one who calls you that himself/herself doesn’t know what it means, what it demands and what it requires to be a feminist. In the true sense.To raise your voice about the plight of women on March 8 every year does not make you a feminist. Neither does blaming the men for every oppression women go through. Peace!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Of jobs and facing interviews

It’s been a long while since I blogged on something that’s been on my mind.

To be very frank, my mind is overloaded with a whole lot of matter (excluding the biological grey and white ones), from the worries of getting a secure job to the anxieties of learning how to boil milk—every problem, to my mind, is like a major Chemistry experiment. You can never underestimate the potential of its inference. Might end up burning the whole lab or might simply produce yet another pungent-smelling gas.

I have been occupied with a lot these days, related to journalism and writing in some way or the other, of course.

But what is worth remembering and typing about is my recent endeavor in an area I’m just beginning to get a grasp of—the job market in the media industry.

Well, my Masters’ course ends in a matter of days, after which, we are all hoping to get secure jobs. I hope to get one that will pay me well, give me immense job satisfaction, provide me with an opportunity to cover stories I would want to work on and keep me happily involved and busy (not necessarily in that order). Let’s not dwell on how reasonable or unreasonable my demands are for the time being and let me begin narrating my first experience of a job interview. How I survived it. How I cleared it. And more importantly, how I rejected it.

Our college Placement Cell works pretty smoothly and transparently. However, they expect the students to make their own decisions as to which ones they’d like to sit for. On one level, it’s a huge amount of freedom given to beginners and freshers like us, while on the other, for indecisive souls like us, it’s madness to choose and narrow down on the ones we’d really like to sit for. I hadn’t had a clue that there are so many media organizations existing in our country until I saw the job openings and vacancies in each one of them.

Until I stumbled upon one in a leading daily newspaper in South—The Deccan Chronicle. DC is on the lookout for feature reporters in Chennai, Madurai and Trichy. Or so the ad announced proudly. This seemed something for me to invest enough thought in. The newspaper seemed pretty OK, the job profile looked like something I wanted to do and the place to work seemed averagely decent to me. And hence I decided to apply. And got a call for an interview too.

That’s when my mind began to do the Jazz. An interview call. An interview that will decide whether you’re eligible to work under a brand called The Deccan Chronicle. An interview in a city that you have hardly visited. An interview that decides your future. An interview that can cause some serious mental damage if you screw.

It’s amazing how easily I can get pessimistic in my way of thinking and looking at things. Situations like these work very well in rekindling the nihilist in me. I went to Chennai, like my other colleagues, with the hope of impressing the staff there with my “honesty, dedication and commitment to work” (exact words from my CV that are mentioned under the sub-head “Objective”). So, they were on the lookout for feature writers, huh? I bet I have it in me. Or so I convinced my staggering soul.

They held a two hour written test before the Big I, which went surprisingly decent. I wasn’t expecting the same as I hadn’t been reading the papers for almost a week now due to various factors. But they asked layman questions like naming the chief ministers of particular states. Most of the questions were subjective (my area of specialty) and I almost smiled to myself when I submitted my finished answer script. To my relief and dismay, the interview was taken in the presence of each one of us—relief because I did not have to face the interviewer in a claustrophobic space shooting random questions at me (most common being “tell me something about yourself”. I don’t think I’ll be able to answer that even when I’m 80) and dismay because now we were all about to be stripped in front of each other.

Fortunately or unfortunately, my turn came in last. So, that gave me the chance to absorb the kind of questions he was shooting at everyone. On the flipside, the butterflies in my stomach kept on growing in size and number. While I was dealing with my moody stomach, I tried making sense of the questions that were being asked. Here are just a few. The answers were the ones that were going on in my head while my colleagues were being grilled patiently by the interviewer:

Q. If you were to write a bitchy article about Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai, what headline would you give?

A: Huh? Excuse me? Bitchy article? Bitchy article? Bitchy article?

Q. What article would you write for a page entitled: “Bootylicious”?

A: I’m sorry, what? How the hell do you spell that and what do you write in it anyways? Spa? Hell! I need one myself right now.

Q. We were the first ones to cover Lara Dutta and Mahesh Bhupathi’s wedding. We’re known for getting the news first.

A. Wow. Really? That’s pace. No wonder, people don’t know a thing about the budget!

Q. We’re looking for lifestyle reporters. Which means we’d be more interested in knowing the fabric that was used on the bed of the hotel in which they stayed for the night.

A. OK. That’s it. I don’t care about that. And I don’t want my readers to care about it either. Why did I come to Chennai? What am I even doing here?

And then the sword hanged over me. He asked me what lifestyle is. Instead of saying: “Believe me, that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking the moment you said you wanted lifestyle reporters”, I ended up mumbling something about way of living life and food and clothes and accessories and such like. This crap seemed to impress him.

I came back thinking if I had known they’re looking for people to cover Page 3 parties, I wouldn’t have applied in the first place. Honestly, I have nothing against this kind of reporting and journalism. But I don’t see myself doing it. Maybe I might eventually do it after 10 years or so. But, I wouldn’t want to begin my career with lifestyle reporting. Now, if this is so easy to say to you—an unknown, never-met and virtual reader—I don’t know why I couldn’t say the same when I got a call again this afternoon inviting me to come to Chennai again, after having been selected. I ended up mumbling some random jargon about myself and my job requirements.

People in and around me are congratulating for having nailed my first ever job interview. What’s the point of celebrating something I know I do not wish to do? But I guess, if nothing else, I gained some experience about facing interviews. Although, the next time I’m called for another, the butterflies so committed to my poor, little stomach, will still not leave me and my tormented soul.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Splits Villa

If marriages are made in heaven, divorces are made on earth. As Indians across the country are investing more on lavish and extravagant weddings, the divorce count is silently increasing its space too. Recent reports reveal that more than 4,000 cases have come up in the last two years in various family courts in Bangalore. What’s more, according to a survey conducted by Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP), a nongovernmental organization, as many as 17,000 divorce cases are pending in the city. The divorce industry seems to be booming. Should we be worried as increasing number of divorce petitions are being filed in courts than ever before?

It’s a change that can neither be denied nor avoided. This is possibly a signal toward a significant flux Indian society seems to be going through. On one hand, the changed attitude towards the term ‘divorce’ has transformed and that is a welcome change. It doesn’t mean the end of the world anymore, as it was considered to be a few decades ago. On the other hand, there still seems to be an inescapable clinging on to the archaic school of thought. Matrimonial advertisements —the best platform that allows individuals in search of their soul-mate to brag blatantly—is a significant place to look at. Even today, these ads do not refrain from attaching the adjective “innocent” before the term ‘divorcee’ just to be overtly clear of the fact that the concerned individual was not involved or responsible in the divorce he or she was a part of. Perhaps, it becomes increasingly important to assert that the potential bride/groom was a victim of a “bad marriage”. The position of the oppressor and oppressed is extremely significant in deciding the future of the individual who underwent the “trauma” of divorce.  The person in question may have been a tyrant in his/her previous marriage but the word “innocent” seems to absolve him or her of any ill-doings. 

Cause for the rise

One could possibly accuse couples of having less tolerance power but the fact of the matter is that they do not seem to compromise at the cost of jeopardizing their own personal wants, desires and needs. But, are people giving up too easily? It is difficult to foreground a single factor responsible for this increasing number. When analyzing a trend over a period of a few decades in a developing country like India, one needs to keep in mind that the society, apart from other factors like economy, people and culture, is constantly in a state of flux by the virtue of the fact that it is still developing. The question to be asked is not whether the change is positive or negative but whether this change has become inevitable. It is not a question of black and white but a tricky grey area we are dealing with.

The structure of a typical Indian family hasn’t changed from being patriarchal to matriarchal (except a few parts in Kerala, where it has been so since ages). However, the way a patriarchy functions has been modified so as to accommodate newer changes. There has been a shift from a single earning bread-winner, who, traditionally and in all probability, was the man, to double income families, where both the partners are earning, more out of economic necessity than individual desire. Dr. Vijay Nagaswami, author of The Fifty-50 Marriage, a bestseller book on marriage and relationships, says that greater independence—both sexual as well as economic—have been contributing factors of increased divorce rates.

Recently, the Union Cabinet approved the introduction of Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 to further amend the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1954, so as to include ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of marriage as legitimate grounds for getting a divorce. For one, this move should reduce the number of ‘false’ cases being filed under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code or the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005. This is because it is alleged that many use these options to pressurize their partners into divorce and even alimony money. But again, the ruling by the apex court garnered mixed reactions from both the liberals and conservative section of our society.  People still cling on to the proverbial definition of marriage as a sacrament, too pure and destined to be disturbed and contaminated by the blow of divorce. If not anything else, the ruling has come as a breezer for those who are still married only because of their children.

The immediate victim

This brings us to a very crucial aspect of any marriage—children. They say a couple may get divorced but parents should never get separated. This is because the child is the first and often, the worst, victim of a marriage gone wrong. But, perhaps we need to realize that today’s children are beginning to understand and possibly even accept that it is completely normal if their parents are unable to live with each other. Nagaswami feels this is both good and bad. “Good because they are not going to get devastated if they are compelled to go through a divorce and bad because they are unnecessarily traumatized in the process (since most divorces are bitter and acrimonious) and find it hard to heal themselves,” he says.

A recent trend has been the rising incidence of separation and divorce amongst people who have been married for 25 plus years, who are looking for new lives after being in marriages of convenience that lasted the distance only because of the children. This still seems to be a bitter pill to swallow even for the most liberal and right thinking people. Twenty five years of togetherness seems just too long a time to contemplate separation, no matter however drastic the reason may be. After such a long time of being together, people assume that the two have taken each other for granted. To be fair, divorce should be an option, but only the final one, and to be exercised only after all avenues to rapprochement have been adequately explored.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of voting and making it compulsory

                               Democracy’s clich├ęd definition is—of the people, by the people and for the people. Each preposition is equally important so as to form a coherent democratic structure. As one would have observed, the definition begins with a crucial aspect—“of”, which means that any democracy is formed by a set of people who decide their own elected representatives.
                            An important and unavoidable reason why democracy in India isn’t exactly “successful” as it is presented to be is because of enormous corruption that has entered the Indian political scenario. Most candidates are bought; votes and voters are bought, while bribes and materials are given to potential voters to woo them. Experts, democracy-lovers and activists have all unanimously agreed how the situation may improve if the elections become more participatory. More are the number of people who participate in the formation of the government, less are the chances of corrupt, unworthy candidates to win or even stand for the elections.
                           More often than not, elections and election results are wrongly perceived and interpreted. If candidate A has won by ‘x’ number of votes, it does not necessarily mean that he represents the majority of his voters. The disparity between the population and the population that actually votes in our country is so huge that it is too easy to fall prey to such false claims.
                           Let us first examine the reasons why one must vote (compulsorily or otherwise). Ideally, as a citizen of your own country, one is expected to vote and participate in the formation of the government; it is an opportunity given to every eligible Indian that one mustn’t miss if he/she wishes to see a particular set of people ruling the country. The fact that you vote is living proof that you, as an individual, participated in the formation of a democracy as huge as India. But, more often than not, this doesn’t work as a sufficient reason to urge voters to come and exercise what is their fundamental duty as a citizen. One needs to be above 18 years of age in our country to be able to vote. But, how many of us actually take that extra effort to get out of the house and vote for our desired candidate? Going by most election statistical figures, average voter turn-out in most Indian states is not more than 60 per cent. Given our population, these figures are a shame. The reason given by most educated voters, who do not have ignorance or lack of knowledge about the voting procedure as their excuse, is—that they do not believe their one vote can make any difference, or that there aren’t worthy enough candidates who deserve their vote. A counter to this is the concept of “Negative Vote” that was in the discussion forum not too long ago. To exercise a Negative vote would be like clicking on the “None of the above” option. It would, then, mean that the voter has expressed his/her dissatisfaction with all the candidates. However, this is not a plausible solution, precisely because it works in the favour of the candidates. Even if one were to give a “negative vote”, it doesn’t help the situation in any way as one among the given set of candidates would still win, with or without the voter’s vote.
                           Amidst all this arises a central question that has long been discussed and debated upon: should voting be made compulsory? Since the voter turnout is just about satisfactory, shouldn’t we ensure that there are more voters who exercise their rights? And one obvious way to do that is by making the entire exercise mandatory. Going strictly by the definition and demands of a democratic structure, making anything compulsory negates the very purpose of democracy, as an institution. Making something compulsory brings in the element of coercion and that borders around tyranny—the exact opposite of democracy. However, on the other hand, a set of experts believe there is no other way to ensure that everyone votes and once that is taken care of, one can hope for a less corrupt, more equal and a more desirable government. I, personally, do not believe that making voting compulsory is the right way to achieve this. While the intention may be strong and truly right, the procedure is indeed questionable. If I’m compelled to vote, I’m robbed of my own free will, essentially.
                           Voter registration and attendance at a polling booth has been compulsory in counties like Australia since the 1920s. This is why Australia has one of the highest voter turnouts in the world.  South American countries like Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela also have made sections of the voting procedure compulsory. But the plan has simply backfired. Venezuela does not have an impressive voting percentage to boast of; nor does the Netherlands, Mexico or even Greece. Merely making something compulsory doesn’t solve the problem. It’s better to have a 60 per cent turnout when we know that the people who voted did so voluntarily, out of their own free will and choice, than a 99 per cent turnout when we know that more than half of that astronomical figure voted out of compulsion and reluctance rather than willingness and choice.