Monday, May 30, 2011

Feminism 101

Every time I write/talk about something which is typically seen as a ‘feminist’ issue, I get some very strange responses which make me so angry and irritated that I am usually left sputtering in rage, and unable to give a calm and rational response. So this post is an attempt to address some of these questions/misconceptions about feminism once and for all.

1.   Feminists are frustrated, man-hating lesbians or divorcees: Actually, a majority of the feminists I know (including myself) are married to men or have male partners, and are very happy in their relationships. Some have children. Some feminists are lesbian. Some are divorcees. What I am trying to say is that feminists aren’t necessarily of a particular sexual orientation or marital/relationship status. In fact, feminists aren’t of a particular gender either – I am proud to know men who are feminists; and I am sure many trans-gendered people are feminists too.

Digression: I should also add here that lesbians don’t hate men. It’s just a sexual preference. Straight men don’t hate other men; straight women don’t hate other women, so why in the world would one think that lesbians hate men (or that gay men hate women).

2.      There are land mines in Africa/ orphans in India/ uncared for old people in China/ poor people around the world. Why don’t you speak up for them? There are a lot of problems in this world that need time, attention, money and resources. Different people feel strongly about different causes – it does not make other causes any less important. For example, my friend feels strongly about the environment – it does not take away from the critical nature of other problems such as poverty or unemployment or casteism. Similarly, just because I feel strongly about issues related to women does not mean that other issues are less important – it is just that I do not feel as strongly about them, and am therefore unable to dedicate as much resources to them.

3.      But men are victims of rape, abuse and oppression too! There is no denying that many men are victims of various forms of abuse too. And that is very unfortunate. But the reason why feminists talk more about women being abused is simply because the incidence of abuse against women is significantly higher than the incidence of abuse against men. However, what is stopping you from talking about it and raising awareness about the issue, if you feel so strongly about it? Such a discussion­ is much needed and would be very welcome.

Also, abuse against men DOES NOT make abuse against women any less horrible. The crime is reprehensible, irrespective of who the victim is. In fact, this touches a bit upon the topic of equality. When men are victims of abuse, it often becomes a topic for jokes. And that is very unfortunate – because an abused man suffers as much as an abused woman does – and it is awful when such suffering is turned into a joke. This fear of becoming the butt of jokes forces many abused men to stay silent. In an equal society, where we are not bound my patriarchal norms of how men and women should behave, abuse against men will be treated with the same amount of seriousness as abuse against women.  

4.      Men and women are not the same. Feminists are stupid to suggest such a thing.  Let me make one thing very clear: feminists do not, in fact, suggest that men and women are the same. Physically and mentally, we know that men and women are not the same. What feminists suggest is that men and women should be equal, in the sense of having equal opportunities and equal rights. Equal does not mean same.

For example, a lot of people ask me why women should have reservation on buses if they are the same as men. Women do not need reservation on buses as long as they have equal right as men to traveling safely in a bus without fear of being groped or pinched or harassed in any other form. Go on, ask all the women you know if they would prefer to have reserved seats in buses, or an environment in which, even without reserved seats, one can travel safely without the fear of harassment.

5.      The myth of the bra-burning feminist. Every time I get worked up about something which is seen as ‘feminist’, my friends chant “burn burn burn”. They do that to rile me up, and it works, every single time! But essentially, the bra-burning of the 60’s feminist movement was symbolic. Symbolic. You can look that up here.

As this article puts it “The symbolic act of tossing those clothes into the trash can was meant as a serious critique of the modern beauty culture, of valuing women for their looks instead of their whole self. ‘Going braless’ felt like a revolutionary act - being comfortable above meeting social expectations.”

Also, apart from the teeny tiny irrelevant little fact that there is a lot of literature out there about bra-burning feminists being a myth, with no basis in actual events, none of the modern feminists I know have burnt their bras. I know that sounds unbelievable, but its true. And it shouldn’t be so surprising because good bras are expensive and hard to find, especially in India. So I’m keeping mine, thanks!

Feminists who are reading this, please pitch in with other points which are relevant to this discussion. Everyone else, feel free to ask any other questions you may have.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Of This and That

My sister-in-law is expecting a baby girl (they live in the UK) and everyone is very excited because this is the first baby in the in-laws family. A couple of days ago, the mother-in-law was discussing what would be an appropriate gift for us to give the baby, and unsurprisingly, she suggested gold, only to be scoffed at by Nike. She then suggested we could take out a policy in the baby’s name.

“For what?” asked Nike, sounding rather horrified at the suggestion of so much money being spent on a little baby (since baby = vague concept in his mind)

“It will come in useful when the baby grows up and gets married” replied the MIL

Now, if my mum or any of my aunts had said that, I’d have bitten their heads off. But I don’t share that kind of a relationship with my MIL (yet?). So I had to deal with this with tact. I began doubtfully “Marriage? Really...”

My MIL immediately interrupted “Well, okay, not for marriage. But atleast it will come in useful for her higher education”.

I think I may yet make a feminist of my mother-in-law.


Yesterday, while talking to Dad over the phone, I asked him what Amma and Samee were doing. “They are eating munjulu” says he.

“Ack! Munjulu!” For most people, the best part of the summer is mangoes. For me, it is munjulu. In my head, munjulu are tied up with memories of countless languid, carefree childhood summers spent at my grandparents’ farm.

“Yes. Samee buys two dozen everyday and they polish off the entire two dozen between the two of them. Every day!” he replies, oblivious to the fact that I’m turning green with envy over the phone.

“Nanna, I’m coming to Vizag next weekend” I announce.

Dad is taken aback. “Don’t be silly. Nobody travels 700 kilometres to eat munjulu.”

For now, he has dissuaded me. But one weekend before the summer is over, I am going home, and I am going to gorge on munjulu till I am sick. Ha!


I have a long commute to work – 90 minutes one way. Which means I spend 3 hours in a day sitting in a car. Sigh! While going to work, I can’t talk to anyone over the phone because all my friends and family would be busy getting ready for work. It’s not so bad on the way back home, because I either talk on the phone or take a nap. But the commute has become so much more bearable ever since I hit upon the solution of listening to audio books. I was sceptical about whether I would enjoy listening to books, but it has been a surprisingly positive experience: I close my eyes and focus on the recording, and then I can imagine what is happening in the book in even more vivid detail, I can pause the recording at interesting moments to reflect upon it.

Unfortunately, the first audiobook I had downloaded was Anne Bronte’s ‘Agnes Grey’. It is a slow, dull, dreary book; and the heroine is so full of overwhelming and needless self-pity, so bloody self-righteous, such a Ms. Goody Two Shoes, so judgemental while pretending not to judge, and generally so boring that I felt like whacking her hard many times through the book. It was rather a test of patience finishing ‘Agnes Grey’. But now I am listening to ‘Anna Karenina’ (been many years since I first read it) and so far, I’ve been enjoying it.

Of course, the voice of the person reading the book also adds to the overall experience. ‘Agnes Grey’ was read by four or five different women, and while I really enjoyed listening to some of them, some voices were just unsuited for the book, and made the listening tedious. For ‘Agnes Grey’, the voices I felt were best suited for the books were soft, young voices with a British accent. By that logic, Anna Karenina should ideally be read by someone with a Russian accent (!) but so far a young lady with an American accent and an expressive manner of reading has made the Anna Karenina experience very enjoyable.

Go to to listen to and download audiobooks. It’s free and its legal. You can also volunteer to be a reader there. I’m thinking of volunteering too – it sounds interesting and fun!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mussoorie Footprints

Today, I worked from Mussoorie. And it’s the best way to start a work week. Get up, brush, eat breakfast, and then sit down at the desk to work in my pyjamas. My desk is right next to full length windows which look out onto rolling hills populated by lush green trees. When I am bored of sitting at the desk, I take my laptop and go sit in the balcony and work from there, and enjoy the crisp mountain air. I would work from the balcony all day long but practical considerations (also known as weak wifi signal) force me back indoors after a while.   

I’ve been in Mussoorie since last Thursday. After work last Wednesday, Nike and I flew in to Delhi, and then took an overnight train to Dehradun. From Dehradun, it was a 75 minute taxi ride up to Mussoorie. Thus, we landed at Mussoorie on a lovely Thursday morning and checked into one of the guest houses run by the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, where one of my best friends is currently under training. Our room is large and bright and cheerful, with a clean, spacious bathroom and a large balcony with gorgeous views – all this for the princely sum of Rs.500 per night!

The plan was to work in the room during the weekdays, and spend weekday evenings and weekends exploring the place. Others were skeptical about this – “You’re going to be in Mussoorie and you’ll spend the days indoors working? Yeah right!” – but Nike spent three months working like this while we were travelling across South East Asia, so he’s quite a pro at this, and I simply decided to follow suit. I’ve learnt that it requires a bit of discipline and self-control (both attributes I sorely lack) but with Nike setting a good example, we religiously sat at our desks from morning to evening, got quite a bit of work done, and enjoyed the evenings and the weekends.

I had a lovely time – we largely ignored the tourist spots but explored hidden little corners of Mussoorie thanks to my local friends. A walk along Camel’s Back Road followed by dinner at the Mall. An evening at Dalai Hill, basking in its serene atmosphere. Dinner one night at a lovely stone cottage in Landour. A Saturday morning driving out to Danaulti, and taking in the pretty scenery. An evening at Cloud’s End, soaking in the sunset. A Sunday afternoon spent lazing around with a book in the pine scented woods of Landour. Of course, the best part of the trip was meeting Ruskin Bond and actually chatting up with him! That was quite an experience in itself, and maybe I’ll write a whole post about it some other time.

We were supposed to head back from Mussoorie on Sunday – with me heading home to Hyderabad and Nike off to Ladakh. However, due to circumstances which involved a lot of drama but are too complicated to explain here, Nike ended up having to cancel his Ladakh trip, and we both ended up having to stay in Mussoorie till Tuesday. I whined endlessly about this all of yesterday – think of all the additional cost of cancelling and rebooking our flights and trains and hotels, I have so much work to do, and so on and so forth.

But today, as I started a Monday morning with views of the hills while working at my desk, I was glad that we ended up staying back. It’s a wonderful, refreshing way to start the week, and I ended up getting more work done this way than I would have if I were sitting in office. It also helps that I really enjoy my work – I don’t officially report to anyone since this project is my baby, and I set my deadlines and decide on my own work plans – which is actually much more challenging than if you had a ‘boss’ setting deadlines for you and telling you what to do, but it’s also much more stimulating.

My work for the day is over, and now, after writing this quick post, I shall slip on a jacket, pick up my book, and head out to meet Nike and sit over a hot chocolate and some steaming hot momos. Have a good week ahead everyone!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Not To Be Left Out

This week, it’s all about Osama’s death of course. I cannot rejoice – I simply cannot bring myself to celebrate somebody’s death. At the same time, this death was necessary. I hear people say he shouldn’t have been shot but should have been captured and sent to prison to rot instead. I don’t agree. We’ve seen what happens when convicted terrorists are sent to prison instead of being executed - hijacking, kidnapping, hostage taking – innocent lives put on the line in return for the release of a terrorist so that he can unleash more terror.

That said and done, while the US has finally got its revenge, I am convinced that Osama’s death will not significantly curb terrorist activities across the world. My belief is that Osama’s influence has waned over the past few years – his activities and movements had to be severely curtailed, his public appearances and fiery speeches had to come to an end, his exchanges with others had to be necessarily limited even as newer terrorist organisations were forming and new would-be-terrorists were joining these outfits – all this has led to a scenario where he is not as important a figure in the terrorist world today as he was a few years ago.

And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that his death is going to make India safer. Al Qaeda’s traditional focus has been much more on the US, Europe and the Middle East. In India, it is the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Laskhar-e-Toiba which are the most active terrorist organisations, and I assume they will continue to be so. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are able to use Osama’s death to step up their activities and attract more recruits.

Meanwhile, I am convinced that the Pakistani establishment knew about Osama’s presence in their country. Maybe they helped hide him, or maybe they just decided to turn a blind eye to his presence and be discreet about it, but there is no way they did not know. Come on, he stays in a town not very far from the capital, in a town with a large military presence, and seems to have been leading a very comfortable and normal life. I’m assuming Abbottabad is like any small town in India – you know everything that is going on in the house of everyone in your street – so how could the renting of a mansion by a stranger in the town go unnoticed and unobserved?

My theory is that the Pakistani establishment knew – maybe they provided active help to Osama in hiding or maybe they decided to just turn a blind eye and let him be. Two things may have led to Pakistan finally letting the US in on Osama’s whereabouts –one, Osama was no longer as important to Pakistan as he was a few years ago when he was a much more active terrorist leader and fundraiser; two, the US may has stepped up pressure on Pakistan (for reasons related to domestic politics in the US).

So no, I don’t buy that Pakistan didn’t know about the US operation beforehand. Even if they didn’t disclose information on Osama’s whereabouts, they atleast knew what the US was going to do. I mean, the US was flying many miles into Pakistani airspace, and over an area with significant military presence and lands up at the mansion of the most wanted terrorist of all time to find him unprotected and unarmed. Right! Again, I believe the Pakistani establishment knew beforehand about the US operations (even if they didn’t themselves help the US in the hunt for Osama) – but it is of course in their best interest to pretend that they didn’t know the first thing about it, lodge a weak protest with the US, and then wag fingers at India.

This isn’t the end of it. There’s more to come. And I am curious to see how it all unfolds!