Saturday, November 28, 2020

Shopping for Vegetables

Returning from her evening walk,

She catches a whiff of dinner being prepared.

Palak paneer! Yes, she would like that.

She takes a detour through the market.

Her shoppu vendor is there. Pink saree. Big smile. 

“Amma, I haven’t seen you for long.”

They talk about the daughter

Of how she’s doing in school.

She sifts through the greens.

There is no spinach. But the methi looks fresh.

There is curd at home.

She could have methi paratha tonight.

She now makes weekly trips to the supermarket.

Where cold vegetables choke in plastic bags.

And masks hide even the smiles.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Bangles, bangles and more bangles

 I never liked wearing bangles. They were noisy, they were heavy and they got in the way when I tried to do anything. There would be times when, in a misguided attempt at 'fitting in', I would pick up a couple. But they wouldn't last long on my wrist, and I'd gift them to the first person who complimented me on them.

First my relatives gave up commenting on my bare wrists, then my in-laws did. For the times when I just couldn’t get away without wearing bangles, I had that slim gold bracelet that my mother had encouraged me to buy with my first salary.

Why the hell can’t you wear bangles, people would ask. They are too heavy, I would reply, knowing fully well they weighed less than the heavy earrings I was so fond of wearing. They get in the way when I am writing, I would mutter, but that couldn’t explain why I took it off even while making presentations or talking.

And then I met Durga. She of the perfectly colour coordinated clothes. She who never stepped out of home without matching earrings, necklace and bangles. Those bangles which picked out every shade of her attire.

"Come with me to Lal Bazaar once", she challenged. "I will make you fall in love with bangles." 

I scoffed, and made excuses. But one day, got corned into going with her. The lanes leading off Charminar resembled rabbit warrens. Stepping gingerly over the puddles and dodging wooden carts, I wondered what I had let myself into. And then suddenly, we were in Wonderland.

There were bangles everywhere. Who knew there could be so many types of bangles- glass, lacquer, wood, metal, cloth. Bangles with mirrors and beads. Bangles with wires twirled around them, and bangles with enamel work. Painted bangles, and bangles covered with embroidered cloth. Bangles in every shade imaginable and a few beyond imagination too.

While I was mesmerized by the place, Durga got to work. She directed the shop assistant to get down every kind of bangle she decided I needed. There were glass bangles in shades of blue, glass bangles in green and red. Glass bangles painted in pearly shades. The metal bangles with shiny red, gold and black stones embedded on them. The bangles with silver and gold glass laid out in neat rows. She taught me how I was supposed to mix and match the bangles to reflect the patterns on my saree.

I was sure I could never get her lessons clear, but in a week, I found I had become quite a pro.

And she was right. I am now a convert.

There are still days when I slip the bangles off as soon as I reach the desk, but rare is the day when I step out in a saree without at least half a dozen bangles jangling on my wrist.

Viva la Laad Bazar. I miss thee.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Battling the Shadow Pandemic

 hey call it the ‘Shadow Pandemic’.

In 2020, as countries went into lockdown and restricted movement in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19, people were not only forced indoors, many were adversely affected financially. During this time of uncertainty, stress and isolation, men took their frustration out on their women.

Cases of violence against women, especially domestic violence went up, with some countries reporting a nearly five-fold increase in reported cases of domestic violence. Even before the pandemic, 243 million women and girls were abused by their intimate partners every year. The pandemic merely intensified the violence, and made accessing support much harder.

In India, during the early days of the lockdown, many women complained of increased sexual demands from their menfolk and ASHA workers reported an increase in the demand for contraceptives. Given the fact that the supply of contraceptives was disrupted, this would have most certainly resulted in a large number of unwanted pregnancies.

With the economic downturn, the number of cases of female infanticide has gone up, with new cases of abandoned female babies being reported almost every day. There are also many more cases of women being publicly shamed and punished for bringing “dishonor’ to their community or family.

During the initial weeks of the lockdown there was a spike in trolling and abusive behavior online. Women were especially vulnerable to this harassment and were exposed to greater sexual harassment online than in the past. Cases of non-consensual sexting, cyber bulling and doxing went up, even as the support services struggled to cope with the increase in number of complaints.

Though there is no official data to support the claim, many believe that a disproportionate number of girls have been forced to drop out of the education system because they cannot access online teaching. Most of these girls have become or will become victims of early marriage.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against women takes on special meaning in 2020 because of the ‘Shadow Pandemic’. The objective of the Day is to create awareness about the scale and nature of this violence against women, and to push governments to implement measures to break this cycle of violence.

What can we as individuals do to help reduce, if not eliminate, violence against women?

Believe and support a survivor when she comes forward with a story of violence. Talking about the abuse is the first step that a woman takes when she wants to break the cycle, and at that time, she should not be questioned on the circumstances that may have led to the violence. The perpetrator is the only one who is responsible for the violence, and it is important to avoid any victim-blaming.

The next generation should be taught to respect consent. Both boys and girls should be taught about consent, body autonomy and accountability. They should be taught to recognise and question gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles- young men, especially, should be provided the toolkit to navigate the world of empowered women.

Men should learn to understand and accept consent. With popular culture spreading the misinformation that ‘no’ does not necessarily mean ‘no’, the common perception of consent is extremely blurry. Men should learn that a freely given and unequivocal consent is mandatory before indulging in any sexual activity with a woman. Words like “she was asking for it” or “boys will be boys” should be eliminated completely.

We need to watch out for signs of abuse, and do all you can to help the person access professional support.

We must speak up against an environment which normalizes sexual violence, and perpetuates gender inequalities. When we speak about gender based violence, it is important to remember that while women and girls suffer disproportionately, men (particularly LGBTQI+ community) and boys can also be victims. Even among women, women who identify as LGBTQI+, women from lower castes, tribals, the economically underprivileged, refuges, migrants and women with HIV or disabilities are particularly vulnerable.

It is equally important to call out sexual comments, sexual jokes, and verbal harassment. This is extremely common, especially in professional and academic settings, and helps create an enabling environment for other forms of sexual violence.

Ending violence against women is everyone’s business. The promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — leave no one behind — can be fulfilled only when we end violence against women and girls.

#orangetheworld, #16Days #GenerationEquality

Monday, November 23, 2020

Sustained Behaviour Change to deal with COVID

 In August when I went to a patisserie, they didn’t let me in till I donned a pair of plastic gloves. Today, when I went to the same place, all the did was a thermal check; even the sanitizer dispenser was empty.

We have clearly let down our guard, and that’s scary.

Do I want to go back to the days of paranoia and plastic gloves? Certainly not.

As I had pointed out to the management even then- plastic gloves are counter productive because they lull you into false complacency. You are likely to touch the front of your mask with gloved hands and leave germs behind.

[Plus the unnecessary use of single use plastic that cannot be recycled.]

But what was needed then, and what is still needed today is an understanding of how the virus spreads, so people can guard against it.

And that is something that is sadly missing.

If you are going to wear a mask on your chin, you’d be better off not wearing the mask at all. Masks do not emit a force shield that keeps the virus away.

A mask acts as a physical barrier, and can only work if it covers both the nose and the mouth.

If you are a carrier of the virus, you discharge the viral load through your mouth when you speak, sneeze or sing. Pulling down the mask while speaking to make yourself audible defeats the whole purpose of wearing the mask.

If you are a carrier, the germs would settle on the part of the mask that covers your nose and mouth.

If you, like most people do, keep fiddling with the mask, you get the germs on your hand and leave it behind on the surfaces you touch.

There are even people who pull the mask down, sneeze, and pull it up again. If they paused to think about it, they would know how foolish that is, but none do so. To them, mask wearing is the mandate, and they do it merely because they are required to.

And then there are people, many people, who are so fed up of being cooped up that they have just decided to pretend the virus has gone away, though there is absolutely nothing to suggest that.

What then, is the solution?

Behaviour Change Communication (BCC)

The only proven way of changing behaviour of individuals and communities to bring about positive public and personal health outcomes.

Five Stages of BCC

BCC works by raising awareness, creating an enabling environment to adopt new practices, adopting practices and supporting each other to sustain the practices.

In India, BCC has demonstrated positive results in adopting practices to combat waterborne and vector borne diseases.

Ad hoc messaging by the government, especially when it is not backed up by their action, does not serve any purpose. The Corona message you get instead of a ringtone has been unchanged for months, and is easily ignored.

What is needed, instead, is a sustained campaign.

Behaviour change is required because intermittent lockdowns do not serve any purpose, and neither do punitive actions like fining people for not following guidelines.

We need to understand the nature of spread and adopt suitable behaviour to mitigate it.

At this stage, we seem to have given up, which is reflecting in sudden spikes in numbers. We certainly cannot afford a situation similar to the one in Delhi to spread across the country, and neither can be afford another lockdown.

We need to change behaviour patterns now.

If you look at the countries that have fared relatively well in the current pandemic, most of them are countries which were previously hit by the SARS virus, and where people adopted mitigating practices.

The sooner we take this up, the better for us as a nation.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Of What use Dharma?, Janaki asks

Magnolia champaca

You talk of Dharma, Ramchandar.

Rajyasi Dharma. Is that the only Dharma 

There is?

Are you not required, as a husband,

To protect your woman? Your wife. Well,

You failed.

Even if I had been violated, 

It would still not have been my fault.

Would it?

I did not ask to be abducted, did I?

Why must I be asked to prove

My chastity?

Do you not have the courage

To stand by me. Is it not your Dharma to 

Defend me?

You can keep your Dharma, 

It is of no use, if when I most need you, 

You fail.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Biggest Mask she Wore



She went through the old photographs.

Swiping though most. Pausing at some.

Moments of joy; captured, frozen for Eternity-

Chucking her graduating cap into the air

Striking a seductive pose at her cousin’s wedding

Running on the beach, racing a dog

Making the okay sign on her scuba dive

Grinning from behind the masquerade mask

Rejoicing after climbing the walls of a fort

She. The girl with the gorgeous smile.

The girl who hung herself one night.

No photographs were taken at her funeral

Had they been, might she have smiled there too?

That smile. The biggest mask she wore.

The Babies never came

Jasminum sambac

“When are you giving the good news?”
her nosey relatives would ask.
Did they not realize she was 
in no hurry to start a family?
The curiosity soon turned stringent,
“Don’t delay or it will be too late.”
They gave her names of IVF specialists,
told her which temples to visit.
They didn’t hesitate before throwing 
barbs of ‘carrier woman’ at her.
Choice or not, they never knew,
but  the babies never came.
“We told you not to delay,
now look at you”, they said cruelly.
Shouldn’t there be more for a woman 
than to be reduced to her ovaries?

Monday, November 9, 2020

We’re made of star stuff

 I was in high school when Carl Sagan’s 13 part television series, Cosmos, was aired on Doordarshan. I had always loved science, but by the end of the first episode, I was in love with Science. And with Carl Sagan too. That was the only show I watched on TV, and when the power went out on Sunday morning, I almost abandoned my atheism to pray that the power be restored before the serial started. (That the power came back on, without me having to resort to prayer only strengthened my belief that I could manage fine without religion!)

Everything about the series was incredible to the teenage me. The themes it dealt with, the footage shot on site, the special effects that showed Sagan walking though different environments, the music, and most of all the presenter. With his mix of intelligence, compassion and good looks, he was certainly my dream come true.

It was after watching how Eratosthenes calculate the circumference of the Earth that the concept of time-zones and the significance of the International Date Line started making sense to me. The whole idea of hopping across the Date Line and going from tomorrow to yesterday was fascinating for me, and for a few days, I harboured the idea that I had discovered time travel. Discussing that with my grandfather, I told him that if I kept traveling round the world from East to West, I would add days to my life. To which my pragmatic grandfather replied, “instead of adding days to your life, try making the days you have count. That would be more useful.”

Though the television series was telecast only once, the book based on it came out soon after, and that could be read and re-read till I had committed almost all of it to memory. Almost every book of popular science I read subsequently, from Bronowski’s ‘Ascent of Man’ to Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’ built on the foundation that Cosmos laid.

It was Carl Sagan who, in the last episode of Cosmos, introduced me to thoughts of the nuclear war, of the position of women in science, and left me with the lingering question, “who speaks for Earth?”. The powerful mix of science, wisdom and compassion is what characterized the serial and all the other books authored by him.

These were themes he would constantly return to. His description of the R-Complex of the brain as being the site for tribalism, aggression and other reptilian behavior still helps me make sense (and forgive) of the behavior of certain people and societies.

A Glimpse of Eternity

But more than anything else, I will be grateful to Carl Sagan for showing me the window thought which I can look out anytime and catch a glimpse of Infinity. It is because of him that I can revel in my sheer Insignificance in comparison to the grandeur of Space and Time. And at the same time experience the high of knowing that as an intrinsic part of the Universe, I too am just as magnificent. Why would anyone need religion when one can experience the same intensity of emotion at the foot of Science? When you know that you are made of star stuff, you don’t really need a God.

In the vastness of Space and the immensity of Time, I am glad I met Carl Sagan when I did.

Happy Birthday, Carl Sagan.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Elections

[This is a work of fiction. A drabble in poetry form].

He was the dreaded school bully,
She the topper of her class.
She despised school politics, but since 
Nobody wanted to challenge him,
She ran against him for School Captain.

They all certainly hated him, 
But were not sure of her either.
She generously shared her notes, 
But could she bark orders?
All the teachers loved her, 
But maybe a bit too much?
She won honours for the school, 
But somehow just didn’t look the part.
She was brilliant, but didn’t she lack
The commanding presence to lead?


More than half the school despised him-
He won.

Monday, November 2, 2020

How Patriarchy affects Men

 Men often feel threatened when we speak about the political, economic, social and personal equality of the sexes. Secure in the privilege that their gender confers on them, men do not realize that they too are victims of the patriarchal mindset.

Yes, Patriarchy does benefit men. It confers the title of “superior” gender on men. It empowers them to dictate how women behave. Their bodies aren’t policed, and they are certainly not in as much danger of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
However, even though Patriarchy favours men over women, it does extract a price from men (and boys).
[I shouldn’t need to say it, but to avoid being accused of drawing false equivalence, I will specify that the price is not comparable to what it extracts from women]
Patriarchy confers the title of “protector” on men, which restricts their professional choices, and often requires them to give undue weightage to financial considerations while making decisions. This puts severe pressure on men, affects their sense of self-worth, and leaves them exposed to societal expectations.
A man who chooses to step back professionally and support his more successful partner is often subject to derision, because he chose to go against societal norms.
[women suffer more by being forced to be “homemaker” despite having a career, but men suffer differently]
From birth, boys are discouraged from showing emotion. They are brought up to believe that “boys don’t cry”, and if they show emotion are silenced by being told to “stop behaving like a girl”. This doesn’t allow them to give vent to their emotions.
Forcing men to be stoic, often results in them either turning to substance abuse or overcompensating by acting aggressively towards women/ non-binary men/ children. Men would be better off if they were permitted to display their feelings.
The cult of masculinity, which abhors any sign of weakness, also ensures that men are less likely to seek help for emotional problems.
[though the strict gender norms imposed by patriarchy affect women much more, they affect men too]
While motherhood is excessively glorified [to the detriment of women], fatherhood is not considered on par with it. This forces families to conform to patriarchal stereotypes and discourages fathers from taking on the role of primary caregiver. This works against both genders.
Though both male and female children are victims of sexual assault, the family considers the girl child to be more vulnerable and is more likely to take steps to protect her. Boys who are abused often do not know where to complain and are left to process the trauma on the own.
Adolescent girls are sexually violated much more than adolescent boys. However, while the girl can tap into the moral support of her female friends, no such support system exists for the boys, and those that are abused are compelled to suffer in silence.
Adult men, particularly homosexual or non-binary men, do not even have an adequate legal structure to protect them from rape or sexual assault. Male sexual assault is almost always subject to derision or dismissed outright.
[again, not drawing any equivalence with what women go through]
The patriarchal mindset barely acknowledges female-on-male domestic violence. While such incidents may be low, they do exist, and the victims struggle to even admit to themselves that it is possible, much less seek redressal.
Another case of Patriarchy letting men down.
By definition, Patriarchy is stacked against women. However, by placing financial expectations on the men, denying them the right to express their emotions and leaving them open to abuse, men too can become victims of patriarchy.
It is in everybody’s interest to dismantle Patriarchy and replace it with a system that ensures and enables everybody to reach their full potential in an equitable manner.
That is called Feminism.


Related Posts with Thumbnails