Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fighting Racism with Racism – Doing it the Indian Way


Every time we were travelling out of Brisbane (our last city of residence), I’d be routinely frisked by airport security for a 'random body scan'. This diligence wasn’t just restricted to airports. Even the lady at a particular store would make it a point to stop me at the exit to check my bag. Eager college kids trying to earn a quick buck by distributing promotional flyers would invariably look through me while pouncing on my Taiwanese friend walking with me. The American expat would express surprise that I spoke English 'like an American'. The steward at the restaurant would ask us twice if we knew it was beef we had just ordered.

When you are brown and from a nation that loves its curries and worships its cows, people make too many assumptions about you. After all it’s convenient to slot people according to stereotypes rather than getting into the trouble of knowing them. Maybe some of the instances I faced may not have been because of my brown skin. Maybe it was me being over-sensitive mistaking snobbishness, awkwardness and staff trying to do their duty, with, discrimination. But the fact remains when someone tries to treat you like a lesser being, you may try to shrug it off as their ignorance but a part of you does feel bewildered and singed.

And I'm talking about Australia whose people are among the friendliest. Where men hold doors for you and women stop to ask if you need help with your heavy shopping bags. If you stop a tad longer than necessary at some busy intersection, rest assured someone will come up to you and ask if you're lost.

You don’t realise you’re different till you move out of familiar terrains where people have their own sets of biases and prejudices.

Funny thing is even in certain pockets of India, especially tourist destinations favoured by the white-skinned, it's we who get treated as unwanted third world immigrants simply by the virtue of our brown skin. This internalised racism manifests itself at a fancy restaurant where your Indian waiter will ignore you while he fawns over the German couple, making you wonder if there’s a separate menu for Indians at subsidised rates that comes with the ‘I’m doing you a favour by letting you in’ clause . The hawkers at Anjuna flea market will dismiss you as Indians who know no better if you dare bargain with them. I’ve had friends recall the time they were shooed away from a 'cordoned firangs-only section' of Majorda beach or a bar meant only for Russians. Or the guide at Umaid Bhawan who refused to entertain local tourists while literally grovelling before the Americans to give them a guided tour. I totally get that the kind of hospitality catering to ‘western’ sensibilities and tastes and making us brown-skinned Indians feel unwelcome, is mostly dollar driven. The lure of a fat tip is directly proportional to the attention you’re lavished with. And given that most Indians treat service staff as their minions, counting pennies while tipping them, it’s not surprising we are treated the way we are.

This subservient attitude towards the ‘westerners’ also harks back to our imperialist past deeply ingrained in a psyche that still places light skin on a pedestal and falls short of worshipping it. Your ‘fair skin’ is a passport to a brighter future, better husband and babies with rose tinted skin.

Harbouring racist attitudes towards those we see as inferior is second nature to us. Be it treating UP and Bihari migrants with disdain or dismissing those from north-east as Chinkis, or a respected Parliamentarian straightjacketing all South Indian women as dark but with great bodies, where every community asserts its superiority by mocking each other’s’ food habits, accents and ethnic peculiarities. Where our last names are not just surnames we were born with but a repository of information, some stereotypical, about our eating, spending habits, intellect, character or the lack of it.

It's like a chain reaction where we subject others to what we are subjected to, without even realizing it. But it hurts, doesn't it, when we are the receiving end of it?

Ironically, most of us see racism as a phenomenon that exists in other countries, particularly in the West, and without fail, see ourselves as victims. Not once do we spare a thought for how we treat our own.

I feel, treating others as lesser beings because of their skin colour, spoken English, thickness of wallet is more an admission of your own low self-esteem rather than an assertion of your own superiority. It is a projection of our own fears onto another person. A person who has nothing to prove to others because s/he is content with who s/he is, will never go out of his way to put others down to feel good about themselves.

But did that stop me from grinning ear to ear when I spotted the airport security staff at JFK (obviously Indian) singling out whites for “random” extra security checks? Not really! 



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Are Indian Men Getting Stereotyped as Rapists?


 
Image courtesy - www.Telegraph.co.uk


In an interview for a BBC documentary, Mukesh Singh, one of the accused in the Jyoti Singh Pandey rape case (romanticised as Nirbhaya by the press), claimed that it was the victim who was responsible for the brutal assault and murder. Had she not fought back, the gang would have dropped her off after 'doing her', instead of beating her so savagely that she died two weeks later from her injuries.

A man convicted of brutalising a woman with iron rods then went ahead and came up with a comprehensive list of what women should do to avoid getting raped, since it’s her fault anyway.

This attitude of blaming everything, from a woman’s choice of clothing, to what was she doing so late at night and if she’s out with a guy, she must be loose and willing, is nothing new. Rape is the only crime where the victim’s morals are questioned while the perpetrator wears the ‘poor me’ halo around his head like a crown. In fact, Mukesh Singh’s views on women are shared by many including those in power. Haven’t we heard enough Politicians blame a “woman’s body language for inviting potential rapists lurking around in the streets” or insisting that “if any woman goes along with a man, with or without her consent, she should be hanged!”

This ritual of shaming women who are confident enough to speak up for themselves, fight regressive mindsets and lecherous bosses who think they are entitled to sexual favours, is not just restricted to our polity but many men and women who claim to be educated. But not every man who thinks “decent girls don't roam around at 9 o'clock at night, that they are meant for housework and not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes”, goes around raping women.

Nirbhaya’s rapist’s remarks represent a sick mindset, whose idea of fun is raping a woman and beating her up ruthlessly with rods because she dared to resist.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Obsessive Foodie


Image Courtesy  - Google

All these years I used to fancy myself as a foodie. Not anymore. It appears that rubbing your belly in satisfaction after an enjoyable and describing it simply as good only qualifies you as lazy. You are not a true blue foodie till the mellifluous notes of hand ground spices in the bhutta korma makes you want to run down the hills singing – the hills are alive with the aroma of cumin! Experience heartbreak when the much hyped restaurant churns out mediocre fare and write scathing reviews to warn your foodie brethren. Happily brave traffic rush, smelly markets to scout for exotic ingredients, and always have a camera along with your cutlery.

The only thing I can come up with after a spectacular meal is – Oh shit, I should have clicked a pic!

Till a decade back I don’t think the term ‘foodie’ even existed! Or maybe it did but we were too busy burping our approval for a dish well cooked and preferred licking our fingers clean rather than reaching out for the camera to click the chicken corn soup with enough cornflour to bind the world. If you loved your food, you didn’t have to shout from rooftops and you definitely didn’t have to click your meal from different angles to get the perfect lighting and shot. If you did, you’d risk getting laughed at by strangers.

We didn’t mind having chicken curry cooked the same way meal after meal. Experimenting was something that was confined to Chemistry labs. Eating out was a monthly, low-key affair and ambience was still a word in the dictionary. Having fun was something we did in moderation. If we were watching a movie, there’s no way we could follow it up with dinner at a restaurant because according to your Maa, too much fun was akin to corruption. Our parents never failed to make us feel guilty by regaling us with their frugal living stories. A childhood denied of luxuries, where they had to wait for birthdays and Durga Pujo to get their two sets of clothes and eating out was an alien concept.

Modern living is out to prove that our parents were wrong and boring. It has seen a quantum shift towards a lifestyle which is all about excess. One look at Facebook and Twitter feeds and you’re inundated with images and vivid descriptions of exotic vacations, fun-filled evenings and gourmet meals your friends are having, while you stab miserably at your bowl of chopped papaya.

The new age foodie is now a gastronome, chef extraordinaire, food critic, photographer rolled into one. His taste buds have a high emotional quotient that can feel the butter-laden, cognac-kissed suavity in the pumpkin soup and sheds tears of ecstasy as he bites into a juicy, succulent, bursting with flavours tangdi kabab.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Aham Bhumika Needs Your Help

It's always nice to come across NGOs that extend a helping hand to the underprivileged, empowering them with opportunities denied to them otherwise. A lot of us want to do our bit but are either constrained by lack of time or unsure about which NGO to support.

Aham Bhumika is an NGO ( Registered ) based in Bhopal. Besides providing basic education to rural children, the organization has trained over 30 rural women in hand embroidery. This enables these women to earn by working from home.
This where you and I step in.
Aham Bhumika desires to make this hand embroidery initiative self sustainable. From past three months they have been marketing the sale of hand embroidered products mainly through Twitter and Facebook. Besides this, the organization has also tied up with a  retail store based in Jaipur to sell their hand embroidered cushion and bags.      
So, why don't you hop over to their  Facebook page, take a look at their wares and if you like something, order and spread the good word around?

I particularly liked these designs.




 





Monday, February 9, 2015

RIP, Voice of Reason?



 
 Image courtesy -  www.telegraph.co.uk


Barely had Modi come up with his ambitious program ‘Make in India’ to transform India into a global manufacturing hub, that self-appointed patriotic Indians went into an overdrive to make his dream come true in the shortest possible time. Thanks to their untiring zeal, we are now the largest manufacturer of ‘outrage and intolerance’ (O&I).

I am not suggesting that other nations are free from such predilections. But what sets us apart is our talent to overlook the obvious like the appalling state of security and crumbling infrastructure, but forage for the unusual. Like one fine morning, Khundak Sharma will wake up with a bad case of acidity and decide he doesn’t like Amir Khan’s face in the PK poster and claim his religious sentiments have been hurt. And before he can belch, his outrage has spread like Ebola afflicting thousands who will claim similar symptoms. And who would then bestow on themselves the licence to go out in droves, vandalise public property and create nuisance with utter impunity.

India has a vocal constituency of sentimental citizens who can draw from neat buckets of topics like minority, religion, region, caste, gotras and the ever obliging ‘sanskriti’ so that they are never short of sentiments that can get hurt at any point of ‘time’. A ‘time’ that consults no calendars or astrological charts but comes unannounced like Khundak Jee’s acidity.

The moralistic Indian when hurt will drag girls from pubs for sullying the much venerated image of the adarsh naari, hound a celebrated author so mercilessly in the name of religion that he’s compelled to announce his death as a writer, force one of India’s most gifted artists into exile because someone decided that he insulted our goddess with his depictions. Getting offended comes as naturally to this breed as coughing to Kejriwal. They like to position themselves as guardians of Indian morality and culture, protecting it from corrupt, purportedly western influences. Interestingly, the same heritage they safeguard like a possessive lover, actually advocates expression of unpleasant facts and unpalatable opinions as a means of arriving at the truth. Upanishads, Puranas and epics have asserted that truth itself has many facets and dogmas and doctrinaire rigidities are totally out of place in Indian philosophy. 

But hey, we adopted hypocrisy as a religion that finds it perfectly acceptable to preach with no intention of following it, but will expect others to toe the line or be prepared to face the consequences. So, we have enraged mobs burning books that they haven’t even read or a state government ordering a probe into a celebrity roast because some bloke who was neither at the giving nor the receiving end of it decides it was obscene and files a written complaint. The same state where Shireen Dalvi went into hiding from fringe elements after her publication carried Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, yet the same government machinery, this time, chose a frosty silence.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

May the Most Beautiful Face Win the Delhi Elections


The keenly fought Delhi Assembly Polls are proving to be the Bigg Boss of elections with each party stooping lower to conquer. Just a few weeks back, Kiran Bedi, BJP’s brahmastra against Aam Admi in muffler, anointed Modi as the most beautiful face and leaving Amit Shah heartbroken.

Ironically, gushing about your leader’s beauty is far from a foolproof way of towing away your electorate’s heart, especially when it belongs to form

Image courtesy - twitter.com
er Press Council chairman and retired Supreme Court judge, Katju. After a close inspection of Kiran Bedi from all angles and a round of questions grilling her on world peace and her beauty regimen, he declared Shazia Ilmi as the most beautiful, hence deserving to be BJP’s CM candidate.

He said “If Shazia had been made their C.M. candidate BJP wud(sic) have definitely won the Delhi elections. People vote for beautiful faces, as in Croatia. Even a person like me who does not vote wud(sic) have voted for Shazia.”

He further added that almost all Indian politicians are rogues and scoundrels, so, it makes more sense to elect a beautiful face to betray the electorate’s trust.

This is yet another milestone moment for women who are solely judged on the basis of their looks, irrespective of their achievements and the accolades they win. This comes as a great relief to the Australian journalist who in writing the obituary for the bestselling author (and neurophysiologist) Colleen McCullough, chose to focus on her lack of looks and ample weight and how she, despite these shortcomings, managed to attract men.

It’s hoped that Katju’s counsel will have many takers since “90% of Indians are idiots” (and most of them in Delhi).

Interestingly, much before Katju came up with this well-meaning advice, Indian voters elected the ‘most beautiful face according to Kiran Bedi’ to show them achhe din.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Growing-up With A-Musing

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'This post is a part of #UseYourAnd activity at BlogAdda in association with Gillette Venus'.


Five years back when I left my job as a high school teacher, my friends thought I was mad. A part of me believed they were right. I had no idea what I’d do next, just an overwhelming desire to live life on my own terms. I’d be lying if I said it was I who took the decision. But when your work starts making you bitter and not better, it’s your nearest and dearest ones who intervene and force you to take a long hard look at yourself. In my case it was my husband.

At 40, I joined a dance class and learnt to pirouette, plié, jump and leap with girls younger than my daughter. I learnt driving yet again only to not drive, yet again. I reconnected with my school friends and finally got down to doing what I wanted to all my life – write. The first time I took time off work was when our daughter was born. I was naïve enough to believe that between my new found role as Mother Dairy and changing nappies I would find time to pen my thoughts. I did manage some juvenile poetry where I mostly end up wondering if I was wasting my life. I think this is one of the reasons why we are so apprehensive of being alone with our thoughts. Our mind, a repository of our fears, throws back at us some unpleasant questions that we avoid by keeping ourselves busy.

When I finally got solitude and plenty of ‘me time’, I was so ecstatic that instead of fighting my inner demons, I chose to write how it felt unshackled from the monotony of my nine to five life. At this point I had no idea what a blog was. When I finally compiled all my write-ups that I had written for other sites, I ended up creating a separate blog for each of my posts. Yes, that is how naïve I was. All I knew was, I had to write like I was talking to my impatient friends whose attention I had to grab by sounding as funny as possible. I wrote about the much dreaded ‘auntydom’, ‘a mirage called marital bliss’ and my life through the eyes of a much married woman trying make light of her experiences in a jungle called Delhi. To say that I was shocked that scores of men and women, including a group of friends in a college in Lucknow related and avidly discussed my writings, is putting it mildly. It required immense will-power not to do a happy jig when I started getting fan mails.

I didn’t start writing to prove a point, to earn accolades. I write because it makes me and hopefully others happy. It helps me connect with so many talented people who I would not have met otherwise.

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