Tuesday, 27 August 2013

In Defense of "The Indian Gentleman"

I am an Indian woman, liberal, educated and very much vocal about women's rights.

I am also the daughter of, a sister to, and the wife of, extremely decent, responsible and caring Indian men and I have many male friends whom I am proud to call  "friend".

I am also a woman who deeply cares and is very aware about the pathetic condition in which Indian women are treated and the endless harassments they face at home, at work and generally everywhere, almost at each step in their lives.

I am writing this post because, there recently has been another incident of Rape in India and this time in the financial capital of Mumbai and it has shaken the entire country once more. There has been much said in the popular as well as the social media about the attitude and the mindset of Indian men and about how, we should, as a society try and change it.

It is true that Indian men, a large enough portion of them have rather medieval attitude towards women, in fact almost all our social laws, tradition and customs have been designed in such a way so as to keep our women languishing at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

Have you noticed how women are scrutinized before marriage, even now, when most of the women are independent and earning (sometimes even more or equal as their male counterparts) and how much emphasis does being "fair", "slender", "convent educated" etc play in arranged marriages ? The matrimonial adverts are teeming with these words and it's disgusting.

But the greater question is:  Are only "Indian Men" responsible for such attitudes?

A society as a whole always reflect the attitudes and perceptions of the people who "make up" the society and this includes both men and women.

I would go as far to say that our Indian women are equal or more than responsible for how the Indian society treats its women. In fact, the other day, I was talking to my brother and he remarked that he's really tired of being generalized as the common Indian "man" who leches and assaults and rapes women, as if all men in India are such. The way our popular and social media goes about asking to change Indian men's perception is really disgusting and moreover it is utterly false. True, we have some of the most harshest and unequal traditions and customs in place to keep Indian women down and out... but are solely Indian men responsible for that ?

Whenever a woman is mistreated, raped or harassed, the first claim of innocence from the accused comes from the mother... has anyone noticed that ? Even in the Mumbai rape case, the mother of the accused has stood up for the accused and has claimed that "her son", the rapist, is actually "an extremely innocent boy and is also underage"... whenever there are domestic violent acts perpetrated, there is always a "mother-in-law", a "sister-in-law" or at least an "aunt" involved.... recently a petty Bollywood actor was accused of raping his domestic, and the first claim of innocence came from the actor's wife, who went as far as saying that the charges were fabricated, when there had already been medical proof to the contrary.

Attitudes such as this, strengthens and emboldens the attitude of the society as a whole and then, when the society perpetrates that perception, we call it wrong, disgusting and unjustified.

Most of the soaps in Indian mainstream television focus on either a housewife getting ill treated at her in-laws hands, or a daughter who is striving very hard to uplift her family from distress, facing embarrassments and overcoming them or an "all sacrificing" daughter-in-law who despite being treated harshly, repents, forgives and gets harshly treated again by her in-laws. Some of these soaps even focus on how a "dark", or "fat", or an otherwise "not so beautiful girl" not getting suitable suitors for marriage. And in ALL OF THEM, the main negative protagonist is also A WOMAN....

And what's worse, there are millions of women, housewives or otherwise, watching these soaps who get influenced by these moronic ideas.

I have grown up in a family where I have three brothers, and all of them are as decent as men could possibly be. My brother, who is also my best friend, is one of the most decent ,man I have till date seen in my life. In fact Indian men are rather, far better, if you compare them to men from other communities and classes such as Blacks or Hispanics. They are far more protective and caring of their family and far less prone to abandoning their duties and responsibilities. I have had several uncles, who has never, in anyway tried to impede on my dignity and I have worked with some of the best male colleagues that one could ever get and my Boss, who incidentally was a man was one of the best bosses ever... I have had male friends who have been extremely decent, not only towards me but also to all the girls/ladies in their life. I have married an extremely decent and an admirable Indian man, who has never once pressured me to do anything, that I haven't wanted to do. I have known some of my girl friend's husbands and they too have been really decent.

Contrary to this, I have also known many a groping men in public buses and strangers, of course, male, on the roads who eyes first travel from my chest area upto my face and then downwards again.

I have also known mother-in-laws who talk about their daughter-in-laws with contempt and ridicule and I have known mothers who have been beset with woes because of their daughter's failure to find a suitable match. I have known " family aunts" and "neighborhood aunties", whose interest in someone's daughter's marriage exceeds her own parent's enthusiasm... I have known female colleagues bitching about other female colleagues and I have also known a female Boss giving less than deserving appraisals to her female juniors.

So my dear readers, there are millions of decent, nice, caring and respectful men in India. These men are considerate, they respect your identity as a woman, and they are freethinking enough to respect your liberty.

As opposed to a hundred lecherous, morally degenerated, abusive, Indian men, there are also several hundreds, nice, decent and caring Indian men and as opposed to many thousands oppressed, ill treated, and abused Indian women, there are also several hundred oppressive, abusive and rather cruel Indian women...

It is a rather sad truth, but it is a truth.

Till the day, we women do not support our own, till the day, we do not do not look into a man's or a woman's eyes if they are treading on our women's rights, we should not blame the Indian male solely for the atrocities permeated on the Indian women. Till the day, women will keep shielding their male relatives for their ill treatment to other women, and till the day we do not impart the same teachings to our daughters and sons regarding women rights and dignities, blaming Indian men and their attitudes, would not help Indian women better their position in the society in any way.

It's best to remember the very famous words, "if men are the heads, women are the necks, whichever way the neck turns, the head too has to turn in the same way"...  So let's be responsible "necks",
my dear women, let's turn the "heads" the right way...

Image Courtesy: www.someecards.com


Sunday, 18 August 2013

My Life as a "Wanderlust" : The Cradle of Humankind and back...

Recently we had a long weekend holiday in South Africa. The "true wanderlusts" (unfortunately, which I claim to be...ahem...ahem...) don't miss out opportunities like this to wander around and absorb the local culture... but partly due to ineffective planning and partly due to laziness, my aim of going out on a long weekend was effectively shelved. The wanderlust in me was not going to give up..ah ha...not so easily, so I sat down with the internet and scoured for places to go on a day trip from Pretoria.

My criteria was simple. One I did not want to spend overnight on a trip, and two, it should be something interesting, culturally, or otherwise.

I decided to go to the Cradle of Humankind and the Sterkfontein caves in Maropeng just one and half hours' drive from Pretoria. Buoyant with the adventure ahead of us, me and my hubby slept off early and woke up to a gloomy, cloudy Pretoria morning.Now in South Africa, the sun shines 360 days out of 365 days a year, and today had to be a day when it would rain...!!! I constantly kept telling myself, and my husband constantly kept telling me, that all would be ok, once we were out on the roads. So anyhow, armed with three bottles of drinking water and a few oranges for snacks, we set off...

The total journey took us about two and a quarter hours, a little more time because, the route wasn't known to us, we didn't really trust the GPS ( which actually was showing the correct route) and it was raining torentially. On our way we made two wrong turns and had to rewind our way, if any of you do not have these encumbrances, you would make it to the Sterkfontein Caves within the stipulated time of one and half hours.

 Now a little about the Caves. Sterkfontein Caves and the adjacent Cradle of Humankind traces the journey of human civilization over millions of years to the present. It is the site of the richest fossil finds in southern Africa and one of the fossils, named Little Foot, an early ancestor of Homo Sapiens was found in the Sterkfontein caves in it's totality. It was the rarest of the rare cases where such a fossil was found in its entirety and it was this find which ultimately made Cradle of Humankind and Sterkfontein Caves to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

If you want to know a little more about the Sterkfontein caves and the Cradle here's a site that you could visit.

http://www.gauteng.net/cradleofhumankind

It is one of the world's richest hominid sites and about 40 percent of human ancestor's fossils have been discovered here. (Source: Cradle of Humankind website)

To the people who would be going there for the first time, it's a better idea to first visit the Cradle Museum and then the caves for whatever you'll be seeing in the museum, you would easily relate to them in the caves. The Museum is half an hour's journey from the Caves, but in case you are travelling from Pretoria or Joburg, the Caves will come first and then you'll have to drive another half an hour to get to the Museum. Since we didn't really know where the Museum was located, we did the caves first and then went to the Museum.

At the caves, one can purchase tickets both for the entry to the Museum and to the caves. However if you are claustrophobic, or suffer from back pain or knee pain or joint pain of any kind, I would not advise you to go for the cave tour, because it does involve some real exercise. You can still visit the Cave Museum (that's separate from the Cradle Museum) and check out some very interesting exhibits.

After you purchase a ticket fo-
-r the Cave and the Museum tour, you join a queue for the cave tour. A tour departs every half an hour with a knowledgeable guide, who are sometimes archaeology students themselves. Our Guide called Themba, was very informative and she had a wide knowledge on fossils and dinosaurs and all sorts of ancient animal and plant life. She was both informative and fun. There will be plenty of time to ask questions and the guides will patiently answer them to your satisfaction.

When one is descending into the caves, please be aware that you are travelling into some 600 feet deep underground and deeper still. It's best to listen to your tour guide and hold the handrails and descend with utmost caution.

Inside the caves, its a different world all together. There were "Stalactites" and "Stalagmites" so varied and distinct in shape and size that it took our breadth away. Oh, an important distinction that one learns here and throughout my school life, I always got it wrong, is that "Stalactites" hang from the "ceiling", there's a C there for a reason after all...!!! and the "stalagmites" rise up from the ground, the "G" in Stalagmites...!!! Only if I had come here some years earlier, I would have been so much better at the subject.

Then there were the fossil sites themselves. The general public aren't allowed into the excavation sites but one gets a fair idea of what's happening... although we went on a public holiday, but if one goes on a weekday, one can actually see paleontologists working and history being made on the site... being a history buff myself, I found the prospect extremely exciting.

The journey through the caves is an awesome adventure in itself. There was a life fossil of an ancient antelope which for some reason hasn't being excavated yet. One can actually touch it and the folklore goes that touching the antelope fossil brings in good luck and helps you emerge unscathed from the cave itself. I don't know whether the folklore is true or not but touching a million year old antelope fossil is a huge increment. The Fossil upon touch appears smooth and cold (of course, it's been underground for millions of years) but touching which had once been alive and moving and breathing, and existed about two million years ago was pretty much awesome.

There were places inside the cave where one had to crouch and crawl on all fours, there was also another place where we had to sit and crawl. It was brilliant. When you come out in the light, there is a statue of Prof. Phillip Valentine Tobias and whose bronze nose
you are supposed to rub for "good luck" or if you want wisdom you rub his left hand, but if you are greedy and rub both, you'll be visited by bad luck...!!!

When you emerge out of the cave, you feel, as if you have come a long way and it's true. Human ancestors have been travelling a long time through evolution to become what we are today.

After half an hour's drive, one finally reaches the Cradle of Humankind. Very honestly speaking, if you have already been to the caves, this Museum pales a bit in comparison, but it is interesting nonetheless. The Museum building itself is a unique experience in architecture. It is called "the Tumulus" and is an unique example of the marriage of environment and architecture.

There is a small canteen inside and you can order all sorts of food like hotdogs to sandwiches. I can vouch the chocolate milkshake is just heavenly.

The exhibits are actually situated underground, and there is also an underground boat ride, which can be quite a thrill for kids and teenagers. It showcases the four elements of nature : Air, Water, Fire and Earth and has an interesting light and sound show. There is also a "room of illusion" and that too is quite interesting. The Museum also has original fossils of ancient hominids and paleo-mammals and birds. It also showcases different types of innovative games, I particularly liked the one which shows how your DNA was formed and what characteristics would your offspring inherit.

There are other interesting exhibits as well. The Museum is so designed that when you start your journey, you begin with the formation of our galaxy and our planet, going to the formation of the single cell organisms to the ancient plants and animals and finally journey to the formation of hominids and to the emergence of homo sapiens of today. It also goes on to showcase, the human journey throughout ages and where we are presently heading. It also has a small exhibition of South Africa's history and concludes with a World Population Clock and of course Nelson Mandela's original wax hand prints. When one comes out, one can see beautiful, breathtaking view of the Maliesberg Mountains.

A visit here is truly worthy and intoxicating. You won't have a single boring moment while you study the journey from our past to our present.

Source :http://www.gauteng.net/cradleofhumankind










Sunday, 11 August 2013

Fire: A Hand of Kali : A Review : Imagination writ large...

Fire : A Hand of Kali is author T. G Ayer's  first novel in the Kali Series and it is a riveting novel indeed. Without giving away the entire plot, the story revolves around a young Indian born NRI girl, who suddenly discovers divine powers within her... is it a bane or a boon? To find out, one has to read the novel for oneself.

Firstly kudos to the author for trying to delve into the Indian mythology and history for the concept. The Indian mythology and History is so rich and diverse, that if exploited fully, it could give the Potter's and the Eragons a run for their money. Unfortunately, there is an utter dearth of authors who take up the challenge of writing fiction based on these. The fact that this author has, is a very great achievement indeed.

When I started reading this story ( I had read the book blurb before), honestly, till Chapter 5, I was really irritated, NOTHING WAS HAPPENING... but once you reach Chapter 5, the book, literally comes alive with action and adventure, after that the journey of the rest 400 odd pages seem to be a blur...

I give credit to the author, for correctly assigning the Indian deities along with their respective "powers" and their strengths and weaknesses. Also the way the plot builds up, is brilliant. The story seem to start slowly, but it then takes a rapid pace as events keep unfolding in quick succession keeping the readers on edge and hungering for more.

The language is lucid and easily understood, also the dialogues that the characters use, especially the major characters, are in keeping with the lingo of the youth. To read this book, one need not have any fore knowledge of Indian mythology. The characters are really well developed and the reader connects with them. Also, one is not kept in dark about any events which could spring a nasty surprise on the readers. The author does a very good job of building suspense and then solving it. No nasty or hasty surprises spring up upon the reader.

The only problem, I found with the book, is that there are several action sequences, which could have been handled better. The author seems to have been in a hurry or must not have given much thought to them while building up the main plot. But some action sequences, and there are some really good ones, are worth imagining...!! The different ancient weapons discussed in the book are also extremely exciting. Having grown up on a diet of Indian mythology myself, even I didn't know there were so many interesting weapons that our deities are in possession of...

In conclusion, I would say, that, this books targets the teens, not the older readers, but whoever the reader is, he or she would find the book an unforgettable journey.  As we journey with Maya, the protagonist, we enter a world, where there are rights and wrongs, the demons and the gods collide and faith is reasserted.
This book is not just a book, it's imagination writ large...

Image Courtesy : T G Ayer
                           Fire: A Hand of Kali Novel: ARC Copy

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

My Life as a "wanderlust" ... The Miracle on the Train...

Again back with another story from the days of my travelling... not that it has stopped... the travelling that is...not at all...

This one dates back to my college days... people who have passed those days can remember them with fondness and a peculiar smile on their faces... life in the college gives you wings, literally, one has a host of new ideas, new imaginations, concepts never thought of, could be entertained and debated... and the entire world seems to be within one's grasp...

Anyways, those were heady days for me... I had started scorning my parents ideas, ideas, which I may point out, I had grown up with, ideas that seem to me, too constricting, conservative and irrational... I was charting out my dream, and my aspirations seem way too broad minded and liberal than my middle class parents could handle. I can still remember that summer when I went home, I had a huge debate with my dad, on the existence of god... slowly, but surely, I was turning into an atheist... and my parents feared that with my believe in a "godless" world, my moorings with my traditions and customs would also vanish...

I had been raised a Hindu, and as long as I could remember, my mum, used to teach me the names of the thousands of gods and goddesses that constituted the Hindu pantheon, their stories, how the "asuras" (demons) and the gods fought, and countless other mythologies... At school though, I was growing up following Christianity because anyone who wanted a good "English medium education" in India, in those days had to go to a convent school, and one of the essential requirements of the students were that they pray and follow the words of Christ. Hence I knew the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Ten Commandments and numerous stories about Christ and his followers... whenever I prayed, I prayed to the Trinity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in school and at home I was required to pray to another completely different set of gods... this was my "religious education" while growing up...

So this "religious paradox" that I was growing up with, led me to believe that there couldn't be a god who existed, and even if he did, understanding him or her wouldn't be so confusing and complicated. So that summer, I refused to pray, to take part in any religious ceremonies that required my participation and worse, returned all the small, bright pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses that my parents had given me, while going away to college, including a beautiful silver cross... I told them straightaway, that if there was a god, and he/she didn't like the ideas that I was entertaining, he/she could tell me themselves... my parents were stunned and deeply hurt... I felt bad, yes I did, because, whether you believe or not, religion and religious beliefs are often time very sensitive issues... but I was too stubborn in my beliefs, too vain to even entertain the thought that I could be wrong...

And yes, I was going to be proved wrong soon enough...

While returning to Mumbai (a very big metropolitan in India, where I attended College) that summer, I was travelling in the Mumbai-Howrah Mail, an express train that the Indian Government claimed could outrun the wind... well, that still remains a vain propaganda on the part of the Indian government and anyone who has traveled on that dratted train would tell you that speed is not one of its forte...

In the days, when I was in College, there hadn't been an advent of cheap air travel, as there is now in India... trains were the most common form of long distance transportation, and as students, who lived in the college hostel, we would get Travel Compensation, another program on the part of the Indian government to lure girls in far-flung areas to study... we would get a fifty percent discount on our train tickets both to and from home, thus the need never arose that we would spend money on air travel...

The Mumbai-Howrah Mail, completed the journey from Kolkata to Mumbai in two nights and three days... a journey which is now covered by low cost air companies in a mere two and half hours... thus the train was not merely a method of transportation, for many, it was a way of life... you met many different types of people, from different regions of India, many languages were spoken, and different ideas exchanged... I have even known of a young boy and girl from neighboring states who met on the train, fell in love in the course of those "three days and two nights" and eventually got married to each other...!!

So anyhow, here I was, after bidding tearful farewells to my parents (although I am not sure, I cried so much that summer, but of course my mum did), she still does, wherever she comes to leave me at the airport... there were five passengers travelling with me and being extremely talkative and congenial by nature, I soon knew their respective destinations. That night after securing our luggage under our respective berths, all my co-passengers, including me went off to sleep...

It was 3 am when I suddenly woke up. The train was standing in a rather forlorn station called Gaya (Budh Gaya, some call it, it was the place, where Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, found his Enlightenment), nowadays, though it is notorious for petty theft. The rule of the book, whenever you wake up in the middle of the night during your train journey in India is to

1. Check your luggage
2. Check your footwear is not missing

Those two done and being satisfied by the result, I went to lie down again, anxious to get my sleep back.

It was then, that I noticed.

The window in front of my seat was open, just a few inches and the hand bag that I was carrying, which I had most conveniently positioned just near the window, and which held some of the most important and basic things, a person needs on the journey, sliced wide open, as if someone had taken special time and care to slice through the bag with an extremely sharp knife.

I was stunned... a cold feeling crept up from somewhere in my stomach to my heart and finally to my hands...a clammy sweat formed on my forehead, and I reached to check the lost contents of my bag... my keys to the luggage were gone, my money was gone, along with my pretty pink purse, my College Identity card was gone and gone were my train tickets....the one proof that I was a valid passenger in this train.

I have no memory of how the rest of the night passed except that my co-passengers soon woke up and the Ticket Checker was called and a hundred rebukes and consolations followed. The next two days, I was on a virtual exhibition, people from different ends of the train, kept coming to visit me, my story of how I was robbed had indeed traveled throughout the train... sometimes, they came with consolation, sometimes with inquiries and sometimes with rebukes...whatever it was, they always felt, I had been hugely irresponsible and that these days parents and teachers weren't teaching the stuff that they really needed to teach to kids.

Unlike these days, when all of us are connected through the miracle called cellular phones, we did not have those back then, and once you were on a train, you could only get in touch with your loved ones when you reached your destination.

One of my co-passengers had the sense enough to contact the Railway Police and file an FIR (First Information Report)... any theft that had taken place on the train, were to be reported to the Indian Railway Police, these guys had Police Stations stationed in all the train stations and you could contact them on the platform itself. It wasn't much help though... the young Police Constable, noted down with sincerity all that I had to tell, and then rebuked me on my carelessness, taking the time point out that "Gaya" was an extremely unsafe station and his final conclusion was that my parents shouldn't have left me to travel alone... which in a word, did absolutely nothing to help my situation.

Soon it was the end of our journey, with hours left for the train to reach Mumbai, I was in a bad state... I had  lost my Identity card, I had no money to get a cab at the station and to get to my hostel... I had some money in my suitcase, which was locked and the keys had already been stolen... it was a Sunday, and I would not find any locksmith in Mumbai station who would help me in my peril... I was finding no way out... every solution I thought of, needed money, which was safely lying at the bottom of the now "locked" suitcase.

Sensing my discomfiture, some of my co-passengers tried to lend me money, so that I can at least get to my hostel safely, but where would I again meet them to give the money back... travelers in the train met only once and as one steps off at one's destination, they become a mere memory like the journey, one is undertaking.

I desperately wanted my suitcase opened, if someone, by any chance could open my suitcase, I would be able to retrieve the money needed, get a taxi back to my hostel, from where I could call up my parents and tell them the whole sorry tale... but all these would be achieved if someone could break the Lock on my suitcase and get the money out... I was desperate, and it is in desperation, always that man turns to pray... no matter, how much I had belittled god that summer, I was desperate for his help now, I prayed feverishly, that somehow, someway, something would happen which could end this sorry situation of mine...

Now we were only three stations away from Mumbai, a mere hour... I was beyond fear and prayers had long stopped, I had reached a state of "thoughtlessness", if anything such exists, all thoughts, rational and irrational were obliterated from my mind and I stared blankly out of the windows at the passing trees, shrubs and the scenery.

Suddenly, a young man came into our compartment.

"Yesterday, I heard, that a robbery had taken place here, who was robbed"?  He asked settling himself down at the end of my seat, a little distance away from me...

"Not a robbery, you could call it a theft", answered the old man seated in front of me.

I looked at him bitterly, for he had not spoken a single word of consolation and had the gall to rebuke me continuously for the past two days, as if just being senior in age gave him some form of dominance over me.

" It could have easily been avoided, had she (pointing a bonny index finger towards me) been a little more careful..."

"How so?", my new enquirer asked

" Only, she should have kept that bag of her's away from the train windows... nowadays, children seem to have little common sense left in them... studying in such big-big colleges and not an inch of common sense"...

 Again I looked bitterly at him and scowled... this had been his continuous rejoinder, how I did not posses "a single common sense".

" So what are going to do, when you get to Mumbai ? "  the young man asked me now...

I turned to him, and answered, "I have no clue"... and I really did not... I could hear the old man in front me give a long sigh.

" Can you suggest any idea ?"

He looked at me a bit longer and said he could give me some money to get a taxi till my Hostel. I told him plainly, that it was not a solution and there had been others who had pointed out the same.

"Then what are you going to do?"

"If only I could get someone to open this suitcase for me, I could take out the money myself "", I said...

The old man "tch-tched" under his tongue...

"Why don't you take the money, now, who can open a suitcase in a train ? " came the steady rejoinder.

" I think I can help you out with that ", the young man replied

"You can ? " I asked, almost willing to believe him... "Can you open the suitcase for me ?"

"Yes, why not, I can open it with a safety pin..."

"A safety pin, where can you get that in a train", the old man snorted. Probably, he was again thinking of rebuking the fellow.

" Oh I have it, right in my pocket"... and he took it out.

I stared at him incredulously, I had never before seen any man carry safety pins in his pockets.

Whatever...

We heaved up the suitcase, and for some minutes, he fiddled with the lock... after some tense minutes, there was a little "click" and lo and behold, the lock was unlocked and the suitcase lay open in front of me...

" Here's the lock, I don't think you'll be again able to use it"... he said as he handed me the now broken lock...

I looked at him and at that moment, I could have hugged him tight... the old man in front of me, was profusely thanking him, and I, in my relief, seemed wordless...

I just continued to stare at him...

" All the best for the journey ahead ", he smiled and and left... it was only for an instant, that I noticed piercing blue eyes in his face... then he was gone.

I fervently opened my suitcase and took out the money and flopped back on my seat...

Then it occurred to me, I hadn't even thanked him...

" You could at least have thanked him... he deserved that much... today's girls...!!!"  The old man seem now really annoyed with me...

"Yes I should have... I think I'll find him in the next compartment"...

I left my suitcase there, in the care of the old man, and snaked through the rows of the compartment, nowhere was my "savior" seated... I even got down at the next station, but he was to be seen nowhere...

Mumbai came and I alighted, took the taxi back to my hostel, and everything turned out normal...

But from that day onward, I started believing in God, and also in miracles...