Archive for the ‘Living Female’ Category

Every day SHOULD be Women’s day, but the sad truth is that it isn’t, and what’s even sadder is that the one day given to us by the world kind of passes away like any other day. It shouldn’t be this way. Celebrate who you are and what you mean to this world! Women are beautiful, intelligent, strong, compassionate, passionate, nurturing, incredible organisms, and we forget about everything we do and everything we are all too quickly!


At the same time, it is all too clear to each one of the women who can afford to celebrate this one day, that we are in the minority. Around the world, women are being abused, assaulted, raped, subjugated, oppressed, tortured, tossed aside, ignored, made invisible. Young girls in Afghanistan are slowly returning to their blue ghostly shrouds. Women in Venezuala are screaming for help against domestic violence and receiving nothing in return. A nine year old rape victim and her mother in Brazil have been excommunicated from the church for abortion, while the perpetrator received no such retribution. Inequal pay and benefits continue to be a reality in North America. For young women in India, a drink in a public place can become a courageous act of rebellion, after the public abuse of conservative groups last month. In Darfur and Congo, women are being raped multiple times and left to die, the prime victim of the genocide. The cases go on and on, splashing our newspapers and televisions each day for only a brief moment after which these women…their names, their faces and their stories will disappear. Their stories, just like the small stories each of us have from our daily lives, become insignificant after a day, a week, maybe a month.


And so, it becomes even more important for us to celebrate this day. To shout it out from the rooftops, to make a fuss, to make our claim on this day. Because, after all, we are blessed: we can. And we must celebrate for all of those women who cannot, whose beauty, strength, intelligence are being taken away in a brutal, violent, unfair manner, who are never allowed to explore their potential, and for whom their identity as a woman is a terrible, painful, dirty burden rather than something to be cherished. And, we must celebrate for the women who paved the way, who had the courage and the audacity to lead the way and allow for us to stand where we stand today.

As we continue with our busy lives today and tomorrow and the day after…maybe we can take a moment to admire ourselves and our accomplishments. And maybe the next time we face discrimination, unfair practices, and inappropriate behavior because of our gender, we’ll fight a little bit harder, take it a little bit farther, do a little bit more, stand a little bit taller. Because while we can do little for all those women whose human rights have been denied across the world, we can continue to fight with courage and tenacity for what we know is our right. And with those small struggles and battles, we will have created change.

I wish you with a quote…

The history of all times, and of today especially, teaches that…women will be forgotten if they forget to think about themselves. (Louise Otto)

…and a satirical video that is both hilarious and frightening to me. Hilarious because it parodies harshly a world where women must ‘know their limits.’ Frightening, because I know that this world still exists, and this kind of thinking still predominates our society.

Let us never stop crossing our limits!!


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With the majority of Indian men.

Jugni, by Rabbi Shergill (aka the only Indian male voice that I can bear right now)

This is an angry rant. A very, very angry rant. I’ve been nursing a headache all evening and sleeping, occasionally waking up and trying to understand what’s really bothering me to persistently cause my brain to hurt like this. Today was not an overtly tiring or busy day. I had a presentation in Tsim Sha Tsui, checked out progress on a suit I’m getting tailored, ran some errands and came home just as my head started to ache. But somewhere in the night I realized the same thoughts are running through my head and the same images, and the culmination of all of it has been so overwhelming that I’ve had to wake up to write this post and get it all out.

I realized that I’m pissed off because something that I never thought really got to me that much has finally gotten to me, and justifiably so. I am sick and tired of being leered at. I am sick of being stared at by every freaking South Asian man as I make my way through Tsim Sha Tsui. I’m sick of lecherous, creepy looks and of stares that make me afraid. I’m sick of ‘hello madams’ and ‘can i have your number’ and smiles that make my skin crawl, smiles from men who are clearly thinking at that very moment that they are the hottest stuff to grace the earth and this woman should be grateful they’re flashing this horrible smile at her.

I’m sick, disgusted and exhausted with it.

Let me make something clear for all the arguments that not-rape is all about (though I shouldn’t have to). For all those idiots who think that its about the way a woman dresses, let me tell you that I am a very conservative dresser by any standard. On most days I walk around the city in business clothes, full sleeve shirts and business cut pants and skirts. I don’t usually wear make up. I don’t walk around suggestively or smile at random strangers. Almost every time I’m in TST I’m running from a meeting or to a meeting, and I always have my headphones on to block the world around me. I’m not a gorgeous woman. By most standards, I’m quite plain in my looks, and my figure is very Indian in its curves.

None of that matters. South Asian men will spot me from a mile and give me a look, a wink, a smile, try to talk to me as I pass by. I may as well have transported myself to any town in Punjab, UP, or Bihar, or some village in south India.

And that bothers me even more. What do I worry about the most when I go back to my motherland? These men. These stares. The leering. The eve teasing and the smart ass comments as you simply walk down the streets. A big part of what made my trip back home uncomfortable last April (and in December) was this same thing. My brother would walk with me, fuming and bursting with anger at all these men, ready to kick the balls of each of these idiots, muttering in anger, until I made him stop telling me. Stop talking to me about it. Stop telling me how low this is, because I know. I could feel the eyes, I could feel the thoughts behind them, and it left me feeling abused. It left me feeling dirty and troubled and unhappy in my own birthland.

And the same thing happens here, when that same class of people get lifted and trans located, and the same mindset and thinking prevails. Its okay to stare at women like this, as long as they’re not your mother or sister. Its okay to behave this way. Who gives a damn what they’re feeling like? Its a consequence of a sexually repressed culture, and of much more that’s wrong with the country and the culture today, that I just can’t begin to explain and understand.

I am so amazed at the women who live like this day in and day out. What I value most about my life in the States is my relatively higher level of comfort in this aspect. Sure, these men exist there too, but as long as you steer clear of certain areas, you could walk out in a bikini and not be assaulted by a million eyes. And yes, the same problems exist there, but I don’t associate it with my culture directly. I don’t go to Little India in Houston or the Indian areas anywhere in the States and expect to be leered at or stared at or whistled at. For some reason, it just doesn’t happen. Is it the fear of repurcussion that’s greater? Is it the fact that in general the culture isn’t so sexually repressed? I don’t know. But I feel safe in the States. And I can’t imagine how women deal with this on a daily basis throughout the year and their entire lives.

They do, and then shit like this happens. The Mangalore pub incident is a perfect example of the hypocrisy of the country. Men are free to do whatever they like and behave in any rotten manner, but women must follow this ridiculous moral policing. Jug Suraiya discusses it in his column:

“Both radical Islamists and what might be called radical Hinduists, share one thing in common: their deep-rooted fear and antipathy to anything that smacks of the empowerment of women. Women going to schools, women getting jobs and becoming economically independent, women joining politics and become politically independent, women going to pubs and showing that they are – or at least, want to be – socially independent.”

It makes me so angry. My blood boils when I think of the different moral codes a**holes have set up in India for the genders, and how these incidents show a very low, absolutely illiterate, disgusting side of India to the world. Quit complaining and whining about Slumdog and whatever underbelly it shows the world. How about we first see just a simple day when a woman can walk in the street in six yards of cloth and not be raped in the mind of almost every man she passes? Men can treat women as objects of lust wherever whenever, but as soon as a woman steps into a bar she’s verbally and physically abused? Or the policing gets far enough to control who she talks to?

What kind of messed up, deranged world is this?

Every Indian woman I am friends with has stories to tell. We have stories to tell of childhoods marred by incidents of eve-teasing, molesting, behaviors that would make any father’s and brother’s blood boil. We have stories to tell of teenage years whose innocence was destroyed by men who made sleazy comments, committed lewd acts, who stalked and whistled and winked and leered at every corner. They vary in their extremity, but we all have a story to tell of how we were routinely made to feel low and dirty in our own country, by our own countrymen.

I know that in my anger I am generalizing and stereotyping all men. I wish I could be more rational about it, but unless you’ve been in the sandals of an Indian women, you could never understand. You can’t understand how it feels. After finishing a meal with a group of American friends I left a restaurant and as I was leaving a middle aged South Indian man gave me a lecherous stare I will never forget. I quickly averted my eyes and started talking frantically with a friend ahead of me. She’d noticed, however. She asked me if I had and when I nodded with frustration she said “you should have stared back at him girl! Shown him how it feels!”

Would that have helped? I don’t think so. I think in the sick, deranged mind of this man, my bold stare would have just added to his feelings of self confidence. It would have fed his ego so he could continue to taunt other girls in this way. Whenever I’m walking anywhere in TST with any of my friends, I suffer the same embarassment. I don’t have to look to see the stares, I feel them, and I also know of them by the sympathetic glances my American friends give me. By their occasional “wow, that creep was really staring at you! eww,” or their quick realization that I want to get away from this place as soon as possible. The other night a friend and I were returning from a meeting in Wan Chai and stopped for the light to change. A group of Indian men stood outside one of the bars negotiating prostitutes for the night (I kid you not). We stood about five feet away and as we discussed with each other how uncomfortable the situationalready was, it became ten times worse as, and I could have predicted it, the men glanced over at me with a defiant look. The light changed and we rushed across.

Just as I would never travel or live alone in India, or let any girlfriend of mine do it, I don’t walk alone in TST. I avoid walking in any Indian-concentrated areas in HK alone at any time. And I think about how sad that is, that I should have to avoid my culture and my people like this. A walk into the Chungking Mansion to get groceries is troublesome. Not just for me, but for any young South Asian girl. She could be wearing a burkha and they would still be leering and trying to catch a glance of her face. I have walked past masjids with its crowds of Muslim men (who should stare at no woman in this manner) and have noticed no difference in the behavior (which reminds me of a joke by a female Muslim stand up: “In Mecca I felt someone grab my ass and told myself: I’m in Mecca, surrounded by my Muslim brothers. It must be God.”) I have been in mandirs and had the same experiences.

And some days it just gets me. Days like today, it overwhelms me and it swims through my brain, the images and the sounds and the words. On days like these, all the stories come back to me and flood my brain, and I’m thinking back to my mother, to my aunts, to my cousin sisters, to my girlfriends. I’m thinking about my daughters. I’m thinking about my future and about how the men who repel me the most in the world are men from my culture. I worry about this anger and this hatred within me, and I feel helpless. What can I do? Seriously, someone please tell me. How do you deal with this? The Indian men who pass by here who DON’T think I’m an irrational, exaggerating bitch who’s just dissing all Indian men, and who actually UNDERSTAND and KNOW (I know there are some out there, because I have family and friends I love and trust, but who I just don’t place in the same world that these men must come from), what should a woman do? How should she deal with this? How should she protect herself, what should she tell herself to handle this?

Because I’ve done the most obvious: just avoided it. I’ve also just tried to banish these incidents from memory (doesn’t work). I’ve tried walking with blinders on, in a sense, looking down or straight ahead, my music loud and my eyes refusing to flit around, but I tell you that is not easy. And you still can’t avoid it. I’ve tried the stern, cold, bitchy stare. I’ve tried the shocked, disgusted look. But how do I help myself? Do I block these memories with effort and continue to do that at a regular basis? Even if I do that, what about my fear and my repelsion of my own countrymen?

Something is very wrong with my culture and my country. When a woman can be respected as a Goddess in one breath and brought down to the level of a slut with a look that matches that same breath, then there is something very wrong with the very moral fiber of this country. When a woman gets unwarranted attention and fears for her safety and her well-being just taking a normal walk in a busy place in broad daylight, then there’s something that needs deep change. Indians have lost perspective somewhere. How can Bajrang Dal and Hindu fundamentalists or Muslim fundamentalists focus on policing the women when men can’t take two steps without being aroused by every woman that walks by? How can the males not need any moral policing? Azar Nafisi discusses in Reading Lolita in Tehran how the Taliban’s rules worked: the nape of the woman’s neck and even her wrist is arousing to men. Ergo, a woman must cover these up. If she doesn’t, if it peeks out and comes to the attention of any man (who, poor thing, is aroused), then SHE must be punished. Its HER fault he was aroused. A man behaves in a disgusting, degraded manner, and the woman is to blame. What freaking justice is that? The same that requires women to sit behind men in certain temples (and follow after men in all the rituals), because if women sat ahead, they would ‘distract’ the men from prayer.

How can ANYONE find these arguments sane? How can anyone support them? I can’t fathom this kind of reasoning and I don’t understand what my sisterhood can do when this kind of fantastical rubbish becomes reality!

When you really begin thinking about it with all this in perspective, the women of the Amazon tribe really were onto something. I hope they really did exist, and to be honest, I can completely understand why they would.

(This rant makes me feel better, but thinking about another unavoidable afternoon in TST tomorrow doesn’t.)

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A fellow blogger (News You Can’t Use, which ironically always has news I can use) made a great post that caught my attention and led me to this hard hitting article on the “Not Rape Epidemic” All women must read it. All men must read it. Everyone must read it. As Deepak states so well,  “it has transformed into a social menace,” a global social menace, and the only way to make the world safer for mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, friends…is to wake up and pay attention. Latoya Peterson writes excellently and makes some very clear, startling points, and also provides some very solid advice on what one can do to fight this war we are all fighting.

This is how the Not Rape epidemic spreads – through fear and silence, which become complicit in perpetuating the behaviors described here. Women of all backgrounds are affected by these kinds of acts, regardless of race, ethnicity, or social class. So many of us carry the scars of the past with us into our daily lives. Most of us have pushed these stories to the back of our minds, trying to have some semblance of a normal life that includes romantic and sexual relationships. However, waiting just behind the tongue is story after story of the horrors other women experience and hide deep within the self behind a protective wall of silence.

In this next quote Latoya talks about something that is possibly one of the most frustrating and painful aspects of the process: the second rape of a victim. Women do this to women, men do this to women, the legal system, the social system, we’re all criminals when we become accepting of the rape culture and start blaming the victim. That WILL NEVER BE OKAY. Regardless of what she wore, who she was, where she came from, what she did: NO MAN HAS A RIGHT TO VIOLATE A WOMAN. I would say vice versa, but these factors seem to come in more when the victim is a woman than a man. This culture is enabling sexual violence against women everywhere, and it is sickening. Just as you cannot blame the Jews for the Holocaust, you cannot blame a woman for violence done unto her!!

What happened in the courtroom is a byproduct of rape culture – when what happens to women in marginalized, when beyond a shadow of a doubt still isn’t enough, when your past, manner of dress, grade point average or intoxication level are used to excuse the despicable acts of sexual violence inflicted upon you by another.

Thank you to Deepak for bringing this article to my attention.

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I was happy to read this news piece, confirming my own thoughts on his songs, in his own words. Rabbi is indeed a female sympathetic song writer, and chooses to write about the crucial topics facing India right now: female foeticide and the rights of the girl child. His beautiful songs speak out to me, and to many women, for these reasons.

I must go back and look at Avengi Ja Nahin in this new light now. Which is always the greatest thing about Rabbi: you discover new qualities, new meaning, new aspects each time you listen.

Singer Rabbi Shergill, the voice behind popular songs like Bulla Ki Jaana and Tere Bin, says his latest album Avengi Ja Nahin focuses on social issues like female foeticide, rights of the girl child and racism.

Ballo, one of the nine songs of the album, talks about the issue of pre-natal sex determination, Rabbi explained. “Female liberation is guided by the patriarch and women are still manipulated,” said the singer, who is known for the Sufi influence on his music.

While the album’s title song Avengi Ja Nahin is dedicated to the girl child, Ballo will suggest gender selection”, said Rabbi.

Credit: http://sify.com/movies/fullstory.php?id=14701943&?VSV=SMM

Another exciting piece of news: The video for Challa is now out. Maybe now I’ll be able to understand the meaning behind the song better. Interesting MV, though I wish the quality was a tad better.

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Lyrically, Avengi Ja Nahin has several songs that seem singularly female-sympathetic, an attitude that is refreshing in a young male singer, and important in our generation. While the first album had songs that chose a woman as their heroine, like the girl wandering around the country searching for answers and finding more questions in Jugni, or Ishtihaar, a song which describes an advertisement for a lost woman, a lost love, this second album is more feminist in its approach. I’m not sure how purposeful that is; perhaps as a woman I read too much into them. But whatever the reason behind it, I find that especially attractive in his lyrics, because I can relate to them more and understand them more.

Avengi Ja Nahin discusses more about love than Rabbi did, and is more ‘direct’ in a way. By that I mean this: in the first album, the songs discussed love but with a certain tragic quality (like the lost woman in Ishtihaar or the story of Heer-Ranjha, or even the sudden change in the lovely Tere Bin where the hero makes a significant realization about the woman who left (‘giving up’ or losing love). In this new album, the love songs are more direct, more open, and more flirtatious in a sense, as the lyrics proclaim confidence in the hero’s love and lust. Therein lies an irony that confuses me about Rabbi’s lyrics. The woman in his love songs (self-written or chosen) is always leaving, or teasing, or out of his reach while the words claim the pain and loss he has felt from her. Yet, other songs are on her side, proclaiming her beauty, her strength, or even giving her encouragement. Why the difference between his love stories and social narrations?

The title song, Avengi Ja Nahin (Will you come or not), is not my favorite by any means, but it has good music. Its almost a straight talk kind of song, where the lover demands his beloved if she will come or not, if she will return his love or not, or will she just leave him with empty promises?(A new article leads me to reconsider my thoughts on this song: Must go back and reanalyze.) Challa is confusing to me, and I’m waiting for more clarification on its lyrics in which the challa (ring) becomes different things that hold meaning (there was an original version sung by Gurdas Mann, which I must also check out). Maen Bolia (I said), is one of the songs I mean when I talk about a confident love…it is a defiant, bold proclamation from a lover that says that he knows she loves him, she has the fever, and she will come to him. Another love song is dedicated to the mysterious girl from Karachi, who is beyond his reach, who he can never have because of many obstacles, yet who he knows yearns for him too.

That’s it for the love songs, and while they are all quite good and Challa is gorgeous in its music, none of them caught me with as much force as the simple Tere Bin did from Rabbi. The others songs are my real favorites, and not just because of their larger meanings and greater symbolism, but because their lyrics are simple and the music is just right, complementing each word. This is kind of a talent that Rabbi has that ends up bringing the most out of the lyrics (thus creating the sensation by his working of a 16th century poem, Bulla).

Bilqis, or Jinhen Naaz Nahin, will stand out for everyone who is a fan of Rabbi’s social commentary. It is a narrative that is based on the shocking true story of Bilqis Bano, the woman who was gangraped in the 2002 Gujarat riots and lost 14 members of her family (and still awaits justice from the courts in India, and goes on to describe other incidents of innocents wronged by the society we live in. And Rabbi demands through their voices that the people who have such pride in India, who like to boast and claim all is well in this nation and there is only growth and no problems, who are so nationalistic and jump at any criticism: where were you? Where were you and where are you when such horrendous crimes against humanity take place?

Bilqis (Jinhen Naaz Hai), Rabbi Shergill

Paghri Sambhal Jatta is a re-interpretation of a popular inspirational song for the Sikh youth, and I wouldn’t be able to say much and as well as is written here on The Langar Hall which I found very interesting. http://thelangarhall.com/archives/352

Return to Unity, Rabbi’s first full English song, I’m still chewing and pondering over, so thoughts on that will come at a later time. Tu Avin Bandra (You should come to Bandra) is a love song of sorts to Bandra, a part of busy, bustling Mumbai. I like the song for its music, its slow, laid back quality, and the almost smiling voice with which Rabbi sings “tainu idhar accha lagega (you’ll like it here).” Its a very different song, and it creates an image of a hustling, bustling, complicated Bandra, one that I’m sure I’d appreciate more if I had spent any time there. The song, for some reason, makes me think of a big city on a wet, rainy day. I really couldn’t tell you why, but its a nice image and makes me happy.

Tu Avin Bandra, Rabbi Shergill

Now to my hands down favorite: Ballo, a simply lovely, amazing piece giving empathy and encouragement to a woman. It is beautiful because it seems to know, to have a very eerie sense of what it is really like to have the pain only a woman can have. It could be directed to a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife, a distressed lover. Rabbi’s soothing voice begins the song with words that acknowledge pain without being arrogant or patronizing.

Ballo, Rabbi Shergill

Main janda, tainu aaj/Peer hundi/Dil tere uthdi ek/Cheez

(I know today you/have pain/in your heart rises/a pang)

And goes on to further accept the fact that this is difficult, that the time, the events, the circumstances, are akin to storms, raging across your word. The next two stanzas describe the betrayal and struggle a woman feels when one she treasured, loved, showered affection on, is the one that causes her this pain, this suffocation, this trauma (and Rabbi maintains the gentle tone of, “yes I know its hard”).

Main Janda Aunde/Din ‘ch tufan kei/Kuch Sujda Na/Uddi ey reit

(I know in the day/arrive many storms/you can think nothing/and there’s just sand)

Rakhdi ti jisne tu/Saambh Saambh/Ghut ghut seene naal/La

Kal jo si sohna/Sagna da haar tera/Ajj ban gia/Gall da o faah

(What you guarded/with great care/against your bosom/very close

What was yesterday/a lucky necklace/is today a noose/around the neck)

The chorus stanza comes next and is simply uplifting, and the music changes, complementing the tone, as it becomes encouraging, telling Ballo that all of this is karma, and this too will pass, as long she faces it with dignity and strength.

Ni Ballo/Ni Ballo/Gham khada/Ey tan lekha si/Karma da/Vekh lai jar lai/Ihnu khirhe mathhey/Beetaga sama/Hovange/Katthey

(O Ballo/O Ballo/Why this sadness/This is just cause/And effect/See it, feel it/Raise your chin/This time will pass/We shall be/Together)

The next stanzas couple stanzas hold the most meaning for me, and are quite powerful yet simple. Again, I am amazed by just the depth and feel, and how does one convey so much in such few words? And exactly what is needed to be said and heard?

Main janda dabbian tu/Kai yadan/Jo suttian na gaian/taithon

O aundian ne kandhan tapp/jadon meetein tun akhan/jadon laven foki mattan/maithon

(I know you buried/many memories/that you couldn’t/throw away

They come climbing walls/when you close your eyes/or when you listen to my/empty advices)

See what I mean? I may be getting too excited in my love for this song, but I personally have the impression that for a lot of women, this song is almost like what Killing Me Softly describes (for those who are fans of that song). In a song being played, you hear and feel like your own emotions have been stripped open. Except Ballo is not just empathic but aims to say “Its okay, and you can’t let this bring you down.” Yes, it is a struggle, and yes, it is a constant fight within you. As the next stanzas describe, you constantly judge yourself, debate yourself, accuse and sentence yourself. You try to find your faults one day, and another day blame the one who hurt you; one day you attack yourself and blame it all on your own doings, another day its not you…and yet, there is never a resolution, it is never over.

Kardi ein nitt tu/Mukadma/Kardi ein tikhian/Jirha

Kade akhein dokhi/Kade kar devein bari/Par hovey na/Koi faisla

(Everyday you/Litigate/Everyday a sharp/Debate

Sometimes its guilty/Sometimes its innocent/But never a/Resolution)

Again, the chorus comes in, and tells Ballo to lift her chin up and face the time, because this will pass.

And the last stanzas are both empowering and desolate. Rabbi ends with words that leave you both saddened, and also strangely stronger.

Tera maseeha/Bane das kivein koi/Duniya sabh bhulli firdi

Khud varke tainu folne painu/Khud painde tainu chalne paine/Navein akhar gharne paine

(Who tell me/Can be your messiah/When all are as lost

You’ll have to turn the pages yourself/You’ll have to journey yourself/Shape your own script)

It is the truth, and it is delivered like a soft blow at the end of a motivational speech. Ballo, there is indeed only you. Only you can control your life, pick up the pieces, create your world and your journey, clean up the messes and answer your own questions. We are all lost beings, and we cannot guide each other, and while we feel pain and hurt by each other, we are all on an equal footing, just trying to make our way and live our life.

Rabbi Shergill has a way with words, and is one of the finest lyricists on the Indian music scene now. Listen to his songs, explore his music, and interpret and research his lyrics, and each song will become an experience in itself.

Avengi Ja Nahin is available on Amazon, on ITunes, and via Yash Raj Films. For lots more information on Rabbi and to stay updated on his works, visit Rabbism. For the story behind the album, downloads, and complete lyrics and translations (and to sample the tracks), visit http://ajn.co.in.

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Yeh Tara Woh Tara, Swades

For the first time ever, I’ve been really jetlagged. For the past couple days I’ve been in a zombie state, and crashed randomly come 8-9pm. I think its the joint effect of being sick for most of the trip and getting little/no sleep, plus traveling constantly which makes for a terrible schedule. I don’t do well with randomized schedules.

While I don’t like writing about the personal bits of any trip, I will comment on the overall feeling of being back. Firstly, it wasn’t as shocking as I had expected it would be. Not until I got back to my home town, which was actually the only place which would be familiar anyway. And while it was very strange to be unable to identify the roads for a day or two, it was sad more than shocking. Sad in a ‘well, yes, ofcourse’ kind of way. It was expected. And then, when I did start looking beyond the new shinyness and development and saw those same roads and places I knew it was somewhat comforting and nostalgic for a little while.

But see, this has what has changed the most everywhere I went in India: there’s a lot of development. There are supermarkets, which sell everything from everywhere nowadays. There are malls and electronics stores and car dealerships, pizza huts and mcdonalds, all the sure-fire signs of a society becoming rich and growing Westernized with a zeal. There are a lot of things that I didn’t grow up with, that bring a lot of comfort to life and which are good to see. Everyone has a cell phone (and everyone means everyone. Even the rickshaw drivers. I think someone once saw a beggar with one).

But while this is great change in eight years, and while I’m really glad for it, it isn’t exactly what I imagined when everyone talked excitedly to me about how wonderful life has become in India. How everything is dramatically different. How its all comfort and sugar and spice. Because it wasn’t. You might not agree with me, completely understandably, and you might have your own reasons for it, but my eyes (ofcourse, jaundiced with activism), saw a somewhat different picture.

And I wasn’t looking at things pessimistically or critically. This is my country as much as anybody else’s, and I went with hope and eagerness. I hoped to be able to exclaim proudly at the wonderful changes and throw around compliments. But I didn’t get the chance to do that, because underneath all the fancy, dressy facade, nothing had really changed. Nothing that had formed the reason for my adaptation to this country. I didn’t leave because I wanted to shop in malls, or eat at Pizza Hut, or get a burger and then go to a giant multiplex. And those are also not the reasons I love America. Opportunity, respect (as a person not in the upper ranks of society and as a woman), the desire to not be faced by the hopelessness of life every day, the chance to be active in society and actually watch my actions create change…those factors are why I have adapted here.

While it may seem unfair and while its hard to hear and write about, these are the factors that are yet to change back home. I did not expect poverty to be eliminated, but I also did not expect the gap to have increased. While the middle class can now afford gigantic palace-like houses, the slums haven’t changed one bit. While the middle and upper classes may be getting better care in the hospitals (though that may be questionable with the reservation system, but thats for another time), the lower classes are still catered to by inadequate, dirty, and makeshift government clinics by overworked doctors and nurses (I should know this, I had to be rushed to one mid-journey and even while I was half-conscious, I was painfully aware that this was not where I should be). Beggar children still clamored and hung onto my arms. The rich still got away with murder (a car ran over four people at 5pm in the city. The driver was drunk, and presumably, from a rich family. The police came too late and I doubt any action was taken). The apathy has become stronger than ever, settled in like pollution and become a part of the environment. Natural human conscience, just plain goodness, is still biding its time somewhere else: my mother and I observed a large middle class family joyfully and greedily stuff themselves and their children while their children’s young caretaker (probably 7-8?), starkly brown and destitute against their rich, whiter, skins, sat right there morosely and hungrily. Not only was it unthinkable to buy her some food of her own, but the family was cruel enough to have her sit right there with their gluttunous family. I wished them all cases of severe appendicitis.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting here pointing out all the deficits I noticed, whining or complaining like the typical ‘NRI-foreigner’. Though it may come off like this right now, I actually hate the kind who sit around and describe the negative side of India and all that BS, like they dropped from heaven and don’t belong to the same place. I am from there, and I’m proud of it…so much of who I am is because of my culture, my traditions, my ethnicity, the values I was raised with in India. Like I’ve said, there’s a lot of good change. There are new roads and highways (Mumbai-Pune highway: amazing), there are new sources of employment, there are greater opportunities than there were eight years ago. The people who can afford it have the chance to live a fantastic life. I’m proud of all of this. But as a child of that nation, I also have the right (perhaps the duty), to observe that there’s a long a way to go. Everything isn’t fine and dandy, and as people who have it in our power to make changes there, we should be well aware of this.

I love America simply because there is unabounded opportunity for anyone who wants it and wants to work for it, and because there is an ingrown desire to cause change and better life. I’m upset at India only because there are all the tools for these same qualities–the nation is rich (don’t believe otherwise, its just corruption thats sucking it away) the economy is booming, a significant portion is getting richer and growing in many ways, the education is probably the best in the world, even the entertainment sector is growing and maturing–and yet with all this, there’s not enough where it needs to be. More importantly, there isn’t enough drive to make it change. I know (too well), that change doesn’t happen overnight. But I also know that you need the drive, the feeling, the sacrifice of apathy, to initiate change. When does that happen?

In one way, what everyone tells me is right. If you’re rich, if you can afford a house, a car (preferably with a driver), and servants, and have a nice chunk of income (all this isn’t hard to get), then life is absolutely great. Actually, better than America, since you don’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning, laundry, driving, any of the mundane and tiring chores of life. You can live life the way you want, you can socialize, relax, shop, travel, enjoy the simple pleasures. You just have to close your eyes to the woman begging at your window, and forget about the slums a minute walk from your house, and stay in your social circle. But I have great respect for the people I know who live this comfortable life, yet, have quietly but actively begun to cause change, participate in or create movements to improve the life of those who are far from this life. Who are actively trying to pull street children off the streets, who are trying to lobby for the betterment of life with housing projects, who may live the good life but haven’t closed their eyes to their maidservant’s much different plight.

In the end, I wasn’t impressed by the mega marts and the malls and the restaurants and the cell phones. I appreciated the comfort of life there, the time to relax and slow down, the chance to be catered to, to not have to worry about the dishes and the laundry. I was appreciative of all the positive changes (especially the Metro. That was pretty freakin’ amazing. Just to have any place in India lasting this long without betel stains and garbage on the tracks is laudable and its so convenient!). I was proud of the media and the youth which is clearly less tolerant than it was eight years ago. News isn’t hidden and suppressed anymore with money and threats, and the youth are the propellants of this new phase. The media gets to where the injustice is, makes it known, and joins the fight where the police force doesn’t. And while biases always exist, I feel the urge to trust media there much more than the suspicious sources that are trying to feed the nation fabrications here. I was happy that my friends have more opportunities and more ways to direct themselves to than there were when I was a child.

I also came back aware of what was lacking, and with heightened respect for all those working to fill these gaps in that kind of environment. I came back driven to join forces one day when I have the means and knowledge to do so. And I think thats why it was necessary to stay honest to myself. If I refused to acknowledge these deficiencies, I’d stay happily away from actively working for a solution (however small my contribution), and I want a chance to do that.

And I came back grateful for the life I had here. It isn’t easy. I’ve worked hard for it and I keep working hard, just like everyone else here. And this country can be crazy and difficult, with deep seated issues in its young psychology. But I’m proud to live here. It has taught me how to be a person who has ambition, aim, and the drive to help, so I can serve both where I came from, and what I’m a part of, and I’m glad for that.

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[Beware! This is a long post, but I ask especially all women who pass by to read it!! And please tell me of any of your experiences, here or at lemonsunflower [at] gmail [dot] com]

Pop Quiz! The above sign would be best suited:

a. In front of a men’s restroom/sauna/locker room

b. As a barrier to allow men to move ahead in the temple for darshan (obeiyance)

c. Everywhere! Gender segregation is the key to world peace!

d. None of the above! Segregation is the obstacle to world peace!

{I hope no one actually took c and d seriously}

So I do consider myself a feminist, but I’m not the one who jumps up and picks up a bat at every sexist comment, because I understand that in reality, life is never fair and was never meant to be. And I’m equally likely to make a comment to the opposite gender, so why make a fuss about the petty things? I’m a feminist because I am aware, fully support and recognize the important needs of women, as well as the instances of clear social injustice where you do need to yell and scream and make a point in a patriarchal society. I’m a feminist because the welfare of women is important to me, because I am one, and because I will not accept any obvious, vicious discrimination of any sort.

As a child, I always enjoyed going to temples. I enjoy Hindu festivities, traditions, the various little rites and customs. We’d take off our slippers on the chaukhat (doorway) and walk in on cool ground, and it would be completely quiet within. You’d walk up to the beautiful murtis (idols) and bow, dip your finger in the tika or chandan and carefully anoint the center of your forehead. Then, if you were tall enough, you’d reach up and clang the bell, or your dad would pick you up. The sound would resonate in the silence, a beautiful sound, and you’d feel at peace. Then the best part: you’d walk out and stand in line for prasad (offering), sweet halwa or a laddoo, a piece of fruit…it always tasted best in the temple. During aarti, you’d sing together with people from all walks of life, clap your hands, and marvel at the beautiful clothes and jewellery the Gods and Goddesses were dressed up in. The festival months were even more wonderful, and exciting, and life filled the temples: everyone came, with goodwill, with happiness, with varying levels of devotion. There were lights, and bhajans (devotional songs), and a mass of colors and voices. My family weren’t ardent temple-goers. We’d go to mark birthdays, special events, report cards, a promotion or a success in the family, to pay our due devotion and show our gratitude. God was everywhere, but in the temple the presence was greater, the experience more satisfying. I always looked forward to these visits (and I’ll admit it was often for the prasad), times when my family was together, unified and happy to visit the Lord.

But the point of this post is this: I don’t recall as a child having to stand behind the boys and the men during aartis, or waiting in line behind the men to see the idols or get the prasad. I recall standing with my brother, not waiting behind him. There was never any segregation in the temples I visited, though there were always rituals or customs that discriminated against women. At that point, I never understood them, or I never noticed. When you grow up with it, its a way of life, nothing extraordinary to ponder about. But there was surely nothing that ever left a mark on me, or disturbed me enough to stay with me all these years or blemish my temple visits. I’m grateful for that.

And yet, a visit to a temple here ignited a rush of questions and emotions (mainly anger, and frustration), last weekend. I’ve been there before, and been through the process before, but accepted it every other time as a cultural custom. India is a mixture of cultures, and one cannot presume to understand the traditions of some from the west or the south if I’m from the north or the east. Often, you have to go by the when in Rome saying, and so I did every time. As fas as I was concerned, I was there to bow my head in front of God (and God alone), experience the peace and beauty of the temple and leave.

But this weekend my conscience flared up, and refused to stay down. We sat behind the men during the aarti, a large group of women who had to strain our necks to glimpse the idols. And then when it came time to “circle” and walk up the other murtis, this sign blocked our passage. Finally, they removed the sign. We walked past. I looked straight ahead and reached the end of the passage.

“You will have to stop. First let the swamiji and his disciples go by.”

He would have pushed me back, but he wasn’t allowed to touch any women in/around the temple. From the corner of my eye I saw he was merely a teenager. Dressed in a white kurta-pajama, and he had the big responsibility of holding back the crowd of women who threatened to just flood in and pollute the prayers of the “swamiji and his disciples.” My heart started thumping and immediately, my anger threatened to burst out. My eyes didn’t look in his direction at all, there was no way I was dignifying his rubbish by acknowledging it and looking in his direction. I looked straight ahead at the idol in front of me. He repeated his sentence. I didn’t budge, didn’t move back (but didn’t move forward either). I simply stared ahead. He shut up, finally, and simply stood there on guard. I considered my options.

Then I swiftly turned around and walked out.

Yup, I didn’t do anything. The righteous anger, the will to stand up, the frustration and I didn’t even squeak. I took the cowardly way out with just the one rebellious act of ignoring him a bit, which he probably didn’t even notice. I didn’t say a word out loud to express my indignation.

I wanted to say “Why? Why? Didn’t a woman give birth to your swamiji? To God himself? Doesn’t Sita stand with Rama in the idols? Radha with Krishna? Who gave you right to make us feel like second-class devotees, when the Hindu pray to both Goddesses and Gods? Why must I wait to pray? Why must I stand behind the men?” I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to question and express outloud the terrible injustice that was being done.

I walked out and all I could think of was: even a rapist, a murderer, the most dirtiest and corrupt man in the world, has the right to pray to God before I do! What justice! What a world! What customs, what traditions! This hadn’t been what I grew up, the temples we visited, had it? I had never had to feel this way as a child, among my family, and my parents tried my best to shield me on the outside. But I know this for sure: during Diwali, Dussehra, Holi, I saw all men and women stand together and pray in front God! [Note: this temple is run by Hindus from a different part of India than from where I am from. Customs change widely by area]

I don’t mention religion here. I will not say Hinduism has not discriminated against women. Hinduism and Hindus as a population have committed grave sins against all women, like EVERY other religion does. And yet, in all the years that I have lived, if there is one thing I understand and am completely sure of, is that God does not make religion. Human does. The idea of God is meant to give hope, it is an idea to have faith in when everything seems bleak. Yet the Human adds his own words and language and ideas and beliefs to the simple idea of God, until what the Human has said and done and thinks becomes indistinguishable from “God.” Humans corrupts “God.” And so, I cannot blame the faith. I can only blame those who preach their version of it and claim its truth and goodness and purity…when in reality, their version is no different from our world: corrupt, unfair, cruel, biased and dirty.

I discussed the incident with someone. Ofcourse, it was wrong, the guy’s behavior was wrong, I was told. And yet, I must understand why they do it. The reason men and women are segregated is because the mind of Man is weak, it is easily swayed, essentially filthy. And so, Woman must be away from Man during prayer to avoid temptation. And so, I said indignantly, why don’t women sit in front then, stand in front of men. Its still segregated, right?

Why not?? Because if women stands in front, the men sitting behind will stare at the women rather than pay attention to God, since men are so weak.

Does it outrage you? Regardless of your gender, do you sense the unfairness, the injustice? Even if I accept the argument based on the scientific evidence of pheromones, it is still ridiculous! Why must women suffer, if men are weak? Who decided that? Its the same argument that foolish people throw out justifying rape. “Its how she was acting/what she was wearing.” And hear, the woman’s crime is simply: being a woman.

How ludicrous. Immediately, I was reminded of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, a memoir written by the English professor who taught secret classes for her women students (highly recommended). Ms. Nafisi recalls how after Iran became a republic, all her female students had to wear burkhas. Not a bit of skin should be visible: only the palms if necessary, not even a bit of wrist or the nape of the neck. The women were fined or verbally/physically punished if the law was violated. And the justification provided to Ms Nafisi, can you guess? The sight of the woman’s white skin was a temptation to the men, seducing and distracting them from maintaining their pure lives.

Again, I do not believe this is Islam. I believe this is Islam from the corrupt eyes of those who changed it to meet their needs/forgive their crimes/grant them freedom and loopholes. Just like what happened to me at the temple is not Hinduism. It is Hinduism that has been conveniently manipulated and modulated and reworked to suit the needs of Men.

The thing that hurts me the most is that this happens in the place of God. Where individuals come to find solace, peace, love, warmth, understanding, gain some kind of acceptance. Women have always met with discrimination, in all walks of life, from the beginning of time. But being stopped in the house of God where I come simply as every man does, for the same reasons and in the same way, with the same devotion and the same dedication and love, is just so very degrading and painful. Its painful deep down somewhere, in my heart, in my soul, its frustrating, it causes my blood to boil and my head to spin with anger. If I had been a child, ignorant of the ways of the world, I know how I would feel: shocked, hurt, and at fault, like there was something wrong with me, something that makes me not as worthy as my brother to face God, makes me deficient in some quality in front of God. I know because even though I understand the narrow-mindedness and cruelty and corruption of the world, I still feel a little bit of that, and that makes me grateful to my parents for shielding me as a child, and scares me at the thought of raising a daughter in this world. And that makes me lash again…how dare anyone, ANYONE, make me feel this way?

And all I did was walk away. I let down all my sisters that day at the temple, by not saying a word. I stayed mute, and walked out, and I have no excuse. I apologize. It was too difficult, it was too burdensome and I knew that that day, at that temple, it would make no difference to that boy or any other man.

May God give me strength the next time I see this sign in a temple. Strength to push it over and out of my way, strength to kick any man who dares to stop me in the balls, and strength to march forward to claim my birthright.

John Mayer: Belief

Various Artists: Ishwar Allah

[This song isn’t working right…it sounds like chipmunks on this player. But you should be able to download it by rightclicking on the link and that should work fine]
{from the movie 1947 Earth by Deepa Mehta}

Ishwar Allah tere jaahaan mein nafrat kyun hain, jang hai kyun

(God, why is there hatred in your world, why is there war?)

Tera dil to itna bada hain, insaan ka dil tang hai kyon?

(Your heart is so large, why is the heart of man so narrow?)

Full lyrics and translation at: http://www.bollywhat.com/lyrics/1947_lyr.html

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