Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Make It Count

Big horror happens and we reel from the impact. Or we think we do.
We believe our hearts bleed so much for those who suffer that we can't wholly comprehend it.
We allow the terrible events unfolding outside to make us feel safe and grateful on the inside.

We tweet, blog and weep in our private corners.
Our sympathies are real, they express solidarity with an honesty of intention that eases our own anxieties just a little bit.
Nothing can help, even the tiniest thing helps.
How do we make sense of it all? What can we do?

We cling to hashtags and social media outpourings. Against our best instincts we look and re-look at photographs. We read and re-read grisly testimonies.

But how do we make it count?
Last evening, I fell asleep with the heavy knowledge of what happened in Peshawar, of what takes place every day in Syria, Iraq, Kashmir, Manipur, my own hometown of Delhi and too many other places on this planet. I wondered what I could do to make the horrific knowledge count.

The only answer I could come up with was to wake up.
To not make it about things that happened Over There but wake up to what I am complicit in Over Here.
Every moment that I am intolerant, or so wounded that I lose the ability to empathize.
Every time I see a child, a grown up or an animal in distress and do nothing.
Every time I allow injustice to happen in front of my eyes - no matter how tiny or how big.
Every time I am blind to injustice because my privilege allows me to be.
Every time I choose my comfort over doing what my heart knows is the right thing - I am complicit.

We wonder how men can look into the eyes of an innocent child and shoot point blank.
We must also wonder how we look at a shivering beggar child at a traffic stop and roll up our windows.
We wonder what makes people so ruthless they can set fire to a teacher in front of her students.
We must also then wonder what allows us to look away when we see a woman being molested in broad daylight.
These horrors are not equivalent, I know, but it is where we can begin to make them count.
Otherwise it's all empty, like a headline, a status update or a hashtag.

http://ste.india.com/sites/default/files/2014/12/16/303348-grab-pakterror-02.jpg

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Short Story


Prime Time
The sweaty newsman adjusts ever so slightly before returning his swiveled gaze to the guest. He clears his throat and tries again:
“Until as recently as last year, the Party had no presence in the northern states. Now, of course, the story is very different. It’s projected to take nearly 60% of the seats. And they’re saying…Shardaben, they’re saying this remarkable turnaround is largely thanks to you.”
“Yes. It’s true that we are in a strong position in the states you mentioned. But you have made an inaccurate and inadequate assessment of its precipitating reasons.”
“Really? Word on the campaign trail is that ‘Shardaben is ruthless’.”
Her face breaks its inertness. A smile stretches out her lips but its ambitions are cut short before it can reach the eyes:
“Well, Surjeetji, you are not entirely wrong. When it comes to the Party’s interests, yes, I am ruthless.”
*****
Shardaben is a simple woman. She may have risen up the rungs of power but she lives close to the ground. A single bed & bath arrangement suffices, with a kitchen, where no home-cooked meal has been made in a very long time. She’s happy with whatever she’s offered on the road, while campaigning from village to village. It’s no false humility. It’s how the Party has trained her from when she was 14.
Lately, she’s been thinking a lot about the early days, when her father sent her off to the Party’s training camp. “Let your loud mouth be someone else’s problem now.” Within her first week in residence, she’d picked an argument with a team leader ten years her senior. Unlike him, she believed that technology and tradition didn’t have to be at odds. But those were the days before computers, when television was just a string of movie songs, sandwiched between news of what the Prime Minister had eaten for lunch that day. Simpler times, yes, but she’d always been prescient about the age to come. And although some in the Party will snigger about the reasons for her success, it was this prescience that attracted the attention of Sardar.
Vallabhbhai Dalal – ‘Sardar’ to Party insiders and over-familiar journos – recognized her opinions for what they were. Brave, not brazen. He’d approached her nearly 15 years ago, after the opening session of the Party’s annual sit-down. She’d been relegated to maintaining the Party blog. He happened to be one of her few readers.
*****
Sampath hands her the phone as she rushes out from the schoolhouse, where she’s just ended a village meeting. She slips into the comfort of the air-conditioned car just as Sardar’s commanding voice greets her. He asks her for a recap of the meeting, she makes it quick. She can tell there’s other business he’s called for.
“Yes. It’s going well, teams are doing well here…Tomorrow? But Sardar I don’t think they can manage alo--…yes, yes. I understand…Of course, I’ll be there.”
Sampath is already sweeping his hand across the excel sheet before him. In the next ten seconds, she’s going to ask him to squeeze a trip to Delhi into a schedule that has no squeezing room left. But he will get it done somehow, with a fearsome combination of efficiency and devotion. He has never known anyone like her. He has watched her – always from two paces behind – as she’s charmed the Youth Party into allegiance, wheedled with Party seniors, cajoled industry leaders and torn down detractors with a singular, fell swoop. Every time men have tried to fence her in, she’s broken through. Perhaps, he thinks, because her anger looks like no one else’s. In all his years as her shadow, he has never understood all of her.
“Sampathbhai.”
“Yes Deviji”
“Leave Giridhar in charge here for the next few days.”
“Yes Deviji.”
“Delhi tomorrow.”
*****
Delhi changed everything. Rather, the prospect of Delhi changed everything. Till date, she doesn’t know exactly when Sardar’s ambitions took root, but two years ago he began to speak of expanding the state model to a national one. And then one day, he called her into his office and told her: CM Dalal to PM Dalal. Would she lead his campaign? It wouldn’t be easy. There was a lot of ground to cover in an incredibly short time. In a Party full of dinosaurs, only she understood that this war would be fought on a completely different battlefield.
The early morning car ride through Delhi’s crisp hot heat gets her blood going. While she has enjoyed being a big fish in the mid-sized pond of state-level politics, Delhi is an ocean and she can’t wait to swim in its deep waters. No pond scum here, just sharks.
She closes her eyes and wonders what Sardar could want so urgently. She knows that when she reaches the Party headquarters, he will already be surrounded by a hungry group of hangers-on (she despises these new weeds that have sprouted up overnight). She also knows his gaze will slice through the cordon and home in on her as she walks through the door.  He will ask to speak to her alone and the herd will disperse. He will keep it short. In all their years together, they’ve never indulged in closed-door meetings like the kinds that exist in her rivals’ filthy imaginations. Besides, Sardar is not one to lecture endlessly on ideology or governance philosophy. He isn’t here to teach or convert. To be in the same room with him, is to be primed and ready for whatever he throws at you. No meeting between them has ever lasted more than 15 minutes.
Shardaben opens her eyes and looks out the window. As the car zips over a flyover, her gaze falls on the massive billboards that fly past.
Sensua Innerware – Because Only You Know the Real You’.
“What does that even mean?” she wonders. The woman in the advertisement is dressed from head to toe, but coquettishly, in a see-through gown of net. Beneath it, clearly visible, are a satin-lace bra and matching scarlet panties. It’s clever: dress her up just enough to leave her undressed. Shardaben looks away, unconsciously straightening the pleats of her sari. No matter how a woman is clothed, men will always wonder what she looks like unclothed. Even as the billboard falls away, her hands stroke the sari’s starchy fabric imagining what satin-lace would feel like on her fingertips.
*****
Nothing about being banished from home at 14 was easy. But thirty years on, Shardaben knows it’s the best thing that ever happened to her. The Rashtriya Dharmik Sanghatan was no place for a teenage girl and so, she believes, the perfect one. It broke down her ego (‘aham’) but built up her mind (‘buddhi’).
At camp, none of her tantrums or self-important rants were indulged; each one earning her punishments called ‘maun vrats’ or periods of imposed silence that lasted anywhere between an hour to several days. Gradually, she learnt to present ideas respectfully yet with impact, so that people wouldn’t just hear her but actually listen.
The same ideas that had made her, her family’s problem child, were now embraced by the Sanghatan. They were valuable to the Nation, they told her, she was valuable to the Nation. Studying history, geography and literature had never been much fun in school, but here it was all part of a common goal. Every Dharmasevak & Dharmasevika was bound in an unspoken bond of allegiance. It was a lesson she carried with her when she left the Sanghatan to join its more politicized sidekick, the Party.
She would always be grateful to her father. Because this razor-sharp strategist, whose quiet confidence Sardar relies so much on today, was born the day Pitaji abandoned her lost and fuming, at the threshold of the RSD.
*****
Ten minutes later, she walks out of the meeting with Sardar with mixed emotions. The job seems simple but with big ramifications. It’s guaranteed to make her a household name within minutes of prime time broadcast. But, as both she and Sardar know, it could either make her or destroy her.
“You are the Party’s ‘Deviji’,” Sardar had told her, “Now it is time for you to be the Nation’s ‘Mother India’.”
By saying these words, he has placed a huge responsibility in her lap, one she’s not sure she wants. Of course, every Dharmasevika is groomed to be the custodian of traditional values, the erosion of which she has witnessed with silent rage over the last decade. Now Sardar wants her to build a roadmap that will return those values to the Nation. But she’s in two minds. As someone constantly disparaged for breaking convention and trespassing into the territory of men, she questions her suitability for the job.
However, the orders have been given. She asks Sampath to delay her return to the districts. Instead, she will now meet with the more active cadres of the Sanghatan and begin delegating tasks within the Party. Organizing morchas doesn’t happen overnight. There are party workers to be summoned and briefed; there are agendas to be set and messages to be spelt out. There are posters to make, routes to chart and slogans to be engineered. Most importantly, there’s an opponent to be picked.
*****
Kotha No. Chauvan or Brothel No. Fifty-Four has its very own website. Its actual location, though, isn’t as high-tech. It’s a dusty, hastily constructed two-story building that looks eternally stuck in the middle of an earthquake. The girls often joke that if the cops don’t get them, the shaky ceiling beams will. It’s just one of the over hundred establishments in the city’s nefarious red light area but it’s gained quite the reputation.
Shardaben zeroes in on it, when one of her party workers draws attention to the cyber-buzz built around it. The website is blocked by the Party headquarters’ firewalls, but she’s managed to find enough blog posts written by who she imagines are pimply boys holed up in engineering college hostels. Disgusting.
She still marvels at how much public consciousness has changed in just the last 12 months. Forces opposed to the values that made this country great, had steadily gained momentum. It had all come to a head last December, when a dastardly act of violence tipped the scales. A high-caste village panchayat, not far from Delhi, had ordered the rapes of nearly 15-20 women from the lower castes. Call it a sign of the times but, instead of getting lost in the inner pages of the newspaper, the horrific crime hit the headlines. It led to a spontaneous uprising that stretched from north to south & east to west. It spread from villages and small towns to first tier cities and big metros. Young, old, rich, poor - in the months following the incident, everyone joined in demanding an end to the toxic systems that the Nation was founded on. It was an unprecedented display of anger that even Shardaben, famed for having her finger on the pulse of the public, had not anticipated.
It ripped apart the Party. How could it hold on to the beliefs planted by the Sanghatan, when citizens were questioning their very relevance in the 21st century? Only Sardar was able to straddle the two worlds and bring order to the chaos. ‘The nation Vs. the Nation’ he tweeted, ‘We must not lose.’  Shardaben had been struck by his clear vision. That day she picked a side and hadn’t swerved since.
“Sampathbhai, take note. Distribute the details of this location to the workers. I will speak to them myself in the evening.”
“Yes, Deviji.”
 “And call the networks and tell them – Day after. 3 pm.”
“5pm will be better for them, Deviji.”
“5pm, then.”
“Yes, Deviji.”
*****
At 3pm on the appointed date, nearly 200 protesters armed with sticks, bricks and inflamed passions assemble silently, a few buildings down from Kotha No. Chauvan. Work hours are just beginning, so Shardaben is sure they’ll be heard loud & clear.
At 4.30pm, the camera vans arrive, crews pouring out and positioning themselves across the street from Kotha No. Chauvan.
By 7pm, there is no Kotha No. Chauvan left. It’s no longer perpetually mid-quake and has reached its logical conclusion. The mob has reduced the building to shambles and its inhabitants to tears.
At 7.15 pm, still throbbing from the excitement of what she has effected, Shardaben gives an impassioned speech to her mob of marauders. It’s a call to restore the Nation’s modesty to the bosom of its women and to ensure there’s no room left for anyone who insists on infiltrating with immoral ways.
By 8pm, every major news broadcaster is ready to air the clip as breaking news.
But Shardaben never quite makes it to prime time in the way she’d hoped.
Because at 8.30pm, just as she’s bidding her troops goodbye and getting into her car, the enraged madam of Kotha No. Chauvan throws a pair of bright scarlet, satin-lace panties straight at her. The ever-vigilant cameras pick up the precise moment the panties land on Shardaben’s face and immediately uplink it to their studios.
By 10pm that night, Shardaben’s tryst with destiny has become a continuous loop of humiliation, with the excruciating visual flashed repeatedly on every news channel in the land: A face embossed in scarlet satin-lace, with pointed nose and agape mouth clearly visible through the silky soft fabric.
*****
In the days that follow, Shardaben retreats from public glare. The last time she visits the Party headquarters embarrassed silences greet her. No doubt there are wisecracks too, but she doesn’t slow down long enough to catch them. Sardar continues to maintain his deep respect for her but asks her to step back from the campaign. “I have faith in you, Deviji, but the Party cannot afford another misstep at this stage. I don’t need to tell you that the media is ruthless.”
Lying low in the Party reminds her of ‘maun vrats’ in the Sanghatan. So she returns to her single bed & bath arrangement and tries to settle back in. Only Sampath visits her now. He doesn’t have much to say but he often presses her legs just like he did in those long campaign days. On the really bad days, when she shuts her eyes and refuses to speak, he talks about how she will rise up again, his own strong hands rising higher & higher up her, until her breath quickens and she lets out a deep & tortured gasp.
What Sampath doesn’t know is that sometimes on such days, she grips firmly in her fist, a pair of bright scarlet satin-lace panties.
*****                                                                                                 
(May 2014)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Humiliation

There will be a lot of back & forth about the 'whys' of what went down.
There will be endless analysis of how you behaved and how the other responded. How the other behaved and how you responded.
You will think a lot about the other's context, history, subtext, station in life, morale and spiritual grounding. You will try to connect the dots with their actions.
You will attempt to do the same for yourself.
You will give all parties involved every conceivable benefit of doubt.
You will plan how to leave. You will cling to the idea of staying.
You will tie yourself up in knots. Then you will stop.

You will utter a word. Perhaps that word will be 'Humiliation'. Perhaps it will be 'Cruelty'. Or 'Disrespect'. Something that rings truer than any rationale you have tried to apply to the situation.
It will become untangled. And you will stop.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/Blank_page_intentionally_end_of_book.jpg
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentionally_blank_page

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dear India, sound familiar?

I've finally gotten around to reading The Millenium Trilogy, which is shockingly not fluff (goes to show what an illiterate I am). 
The passage below quotes a character, who visited Germany in 1941 and describes the ethos of that time. 
For anyone who's ever asked in a judgy tone (me): "But why didn't the Germans stop Hitler? Couldn't they tell he was a sociopath?", here, Tinker Bell, is a possible response. 
And colour me paranoid, but it sounds & feels a lot like what's going on in India right now:

"I won't tire you with the details but when I went there, Hitler and Stalin were still good friends and there wasn't yet an Eastern Front. Everyone still believed Hitler was invincible. There was a feeling of...both optimism and desperation. I think those are the words. More than half a century later, it's still difficult to put words to mood. Don't get me wrong - I was not a Nazi, and in my eyes Hitler seemed like an absurd character in an operatta. But it would have been almost impossible not to be infected by the optimism about the future, which was rife in the ordinary people in Hamburg. Despite the fact that the war was getting closer, and several bombing raids were carried out against Hamburg during the time I was there, the people seemed to think it was mostly a temporary annoyance - that soon there would be peace and Hitler would establish his Neuropa. People wanted to believe that Hitler was God. That's what it sounded like in the propaganda."


(I don't wish to compare any one person to Hitler but I do find it fascinating to read about that precarious moment in history right before Hitler became so obviously and famously 'Evil'...coinciding with the moment of brainwashing/ disastrous lapse in individual judgement/ herd mentality that the public suffered.)

http://stockercary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/use-your-brain.jpg 


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Procedure For Letting Go


This is bullet-point guide for getting over devastation like earthquakes, bankruptcies and being caught on the wrong side of genocide.
Or if you’re genuinely unfortunate like me, the end of a meaningful romantosexualTM relationship.

1.  The T-RAGE-DY CycleTM: When something beautiful dies, it’s usually the guy’s fault because he’s a jerk. Still, it’s important to acknowledge that there are jerks and there are jerks.

The Obvious Asshole will have broken your heart in some Oprah-approved act of doucheyness like cheating, stealing from your wallet, hitting on your mom or uploading your naked selfies on to sexydesiaunties.com. It is easy to hate on this guy – all you have to do is steal his phone, pretend to be him and text his boss saying you’re setting fire to his car. Then find his boss’s car and set fire to it.

But then there are the Good Guys With Issues, who have truly made you feel loved for your personality and your boobs and who think you’re a fantastic woman with fantastic boobs but just can’t make a go of it because they have had a difficult childhood on account of that one time when they were 15, when the dentist touched them inappropriately in the mouth-area.
How to get over them?

I find that it is good to completely confuse yourself by indulging in some Emotional TrapezeryTM. This is a game of swinging between compassion for his human failings and fantasizing that a steaming hot pile of monkey feces lands on his face.
It goes something like this: At least he was always honest --> Gutless coward running at the first sign of trouble --> He tried the best he knew how --> I can’t believe I bought him silk chaddies with my hard-earned money!! --> He held my hair back when I puked indelicately into a sewer and never mocked me for it --> Bastard dumped me on the phone!!! 
Etcetera etcetera etcetera

This is a good exercise as it makes you lose sleep thinking of all the smart & bitchy takedowns you could lob his way.
It also makes you cry endlessly at the loss of That One Good Man, which in turn makes you lose weight*.
*This may not be a medically proven fact and is, in fact, empirically unproven as I have gained 2 kilos in the last 1 month.

Which brings me to…

2.  Crying YogaTM: In November of last year, I broke my back in a sexciting speedboat incident in Thailand. But enough about my fascinating adventures.
As a result, I have been forced into a life involving slow moving yogic sequences that must be executed every single day or else my vertebrae will fall out or cave in or generally disintegrate in a theatrical poof of angel dust.

Over the 45 odd minutes that I do these exercises, my body transforms its tense and rageful scaffolding into a more vulnerable mass of Zen-MushTM.
There is a very specific moment in the routine when this happens. It is right after I have done the standing poses and lie down on my tummy. I breathe in, raise my torso, stay there for 5 counts and gently bring my torso down flat on the ground. Breathe in. Raise torso. Hold. Breathe out. Release torso. Repeat 10 times.
Post heartbreak when I do my daily routine, this is the point at which my spine relaxes completely, in turn releasing Sob HormonesTM through the body. Such that, now it all goes something like this: Breath in. Raise torso. Weep for 5 counts. Bawl out. Drop torso in a heaving mound of grief. Repeat 10 times.

I find that this is a great way to release toxins from the body without paying for a therapist and I am now in talks with Gold’s Gym to start a pilot program for Crying YogaTM.
Do sign up one and all. You will find the mind-body-spirit relief especially useful as you approach the dreaded 4-7 days of every woman’s monthly calender (or not, in which case you may need to visit your gynaecologist)…

3.   The Dreaded Menses: Through most of my 20s I barely used my vagina. My reproductive system was in near-mint condition and more often than not I walked through the world without any awareness that I possessed a uterus.
Except for that monstrous week every month. It seemed ridiculous that I had to go through the agony so regularly (one might even say periodically ha ha), when I was extracting so little value from the damn thing. It felt like I was paying EMIs on an iPhone that would only be released 20 years from now.
So let me tell you this about heartbreak. It is even worse when you re-hire your vagina only to retire it much sooner than you expected. Because now, when the dreaded menses hit, they just don’t grab your Lady-BallsTM. They get your heart. They make its walls shed their inner lining and exit you in a most painful and bloody manner. Sometimes it involves hideous clotting of regret & longing.

You will want to hurt something. You will want to break stuff. You will want to speak rudely to a telemarketer. But don’t.
Because there is a better way…

4.  Pouring Angst Into Work: They will tell you that work is the best way to get over a relationship’s demise. The ‘they’ will probably be your boss. Do not listen to him. (Or her. Ha ha. Who am I kidding? Girls can’t be bosses.) Take huge amounts of time off work. Don’t make your deadlines. Turn in shoddy reports. Steal office supplies. Release your anger by having bitching sessions about clients. Create long email threads outlining your ideas on how to make the office loo a more ‘conducive place for all’. CC them to everyone in the organization.

5.   Friends Are Bitches, Don’t Trust ‘Em: When in the throes of heartbreak, friends can be those assholes, who are always trying to make you feel better. God, they can be so annoying. Please feel free to ignore their calls or attempts to meet you for a ‘coffee and a chat’. Later when you’re feeling better you can accuse them of not being there when you needed them the most. This will make you feel like a martyr, which totally worked for Gandhi and is a guaranteed ‘pick me up’.
The practice you gain in being a Bitchy MartyrTM will be invaluable in your journey towards letting go…

6.   Social Media Activism: Did someone say Bitchy MartyrTM? Sign me up for Twitter and Blogspot!
But be careful to make it an anonymous account that no one can trace back to you. Also be careful to block any and all followers, who may know you from real life.
Then go ahead and rant, sob, indulge in months of self-pity and hateful naming-and-shaming. Drink lots of vodka and babble nonsense on the timeline. Stalk other tweeters and mock their poetic tweets. Write poetic tweets. Write self-indulgent blog posts that you think are profound but really just get on everyone’s nerves.

Go forth and be a gandu. That’s what letting go is all about*.
*Does not apply to Facebook or Instagram. What are you, stupid?

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-jVRx-JLG7r4/UBKB6vgfPtI/AAAAAAAAChA/wkPX7ePynbQ/s1600/TrapezeSchool-HRP-226.jpg
"I'm not pointing the wrong way...I'd planned for you to grab my butt all along..."


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Quote

"But plans are one thing and fate another. When they coincide, success results. Yet success mustn't be considered the absolute. It is questionable, for that matter, whether success is an adequate response to life. Success can eliminate as many options as failure."

~ Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues

http://content.internetvideoarchive.com/content/photos/123/000517_11.jpg
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues

Friday, September 19, 2014

I Guess We've Reached *That* Stage In The Grief Cycle

Since everyone's been going on and on and on about 'Zindagi Gulzar Hai', I decided to watch the first episode.
I couldn't understand a word of what anyone was saying until this guy showed up:

She: I can't be the kind of wife, who waits endlessly by the door, for you to come home.
He: Why not? What's wrong with that? 


And then I got it.
I guess 'patriarchal asshole in progressive garb' is a universal trope.
You don't need to understand Urdu to recognize one.

Hashtag AmanKiAsha.

******
P.S. I don't hate it.
Also, I may not know what a 'trope' really is... 

P.P.S: O.M.G SO ADDICKTED 2 ZGH