Friday, January 26, 2007


I wonder sometimes if I would have become quite the sports hero had hopscotch, skipping ropes and gotti been parts of the school team (i was the unbeaten champion at all three but somewhere between grade five and six these stopped being "sports"). I probably would.

Why is jumping ropes not a school sport? It is a vigorously physical, creative, team driven game. Is it simply because it is a “girlie” game (used by boxers to quicken their pace) that it has gained no grounds? Is it the same deal with hopscotch? (Hopscotch was used by the Roman army as an exercise drill to improve their speed and feet co-ordination).

Both ropes and hopscotch are almost universally played by girls.

And how easily we dismiss this.

Boys will not be caught dead playing gotti and hopscotch.

And how easy it is to make girls dismiss activities they think of as intrinsically theirs.

How villainously our schools, where we first begin to think of ourselves both as social beings and individual entities, participate in propagating this sense of worthlessness.

How easily girls are taught to envy everything the other sex does.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

About Museums, Movies, Stories and Other Narrative Forms

The most disturbing museum in Washington is the one dedicated to the Holocaust. I was lost in it for the entire day and when I came out of it I was intensely depressed, so much so that I still find it difficult to return to Washington.

I was given a picture and the name of a person killed by Hitler. The idea was that I was that person and I was to look for myself inside the museum space into which I wondered with a gripping dread. I was very disturbed when I saw myself, dead and tortured, hair turned to wigs, gold teeth extracted to make jewelry, skin painted as an exquisite light lamp, buttons made out of my bones. My father was used by German doctors to figure out how much high pressure could be applied to a live man before his skull burst like a watermelon. My picture was on the wall, complete with family, all of who suffered outrageous torture, humiliation and death.

I wonder how the US would react if Germany decided to construct an elaborate museum dedicated to the Africans who were also equally horribly mutilated by US slave owners. I am sure it would make for a terrifying and gripping tour. How about making a movie that highlights the American cruelties against blacks with such exquisite skill and craft as did Schindler’s List, for instance? How about making a movie, or even better, a museum about the Abu Gharib prisoners?

There is no grisly monument in Washington dedicated to educate the Americans about their own godawful crimes, but we do have two in Philadelphia that are dedicated to the Irish and the Palestinian misfortunes.

I have noticed a pattern amongst my students. Every time they want to write about the crimes against humanity the almost only and the most obvious narrative that springs out is that of the Holocaust. I have read several stories and poems about Hitler killing the Jews. Why is the Holocaust given such predominance? Why does it loom so high that all other atrocities are made to pale against it? Why did I have to identify myself with an unfortunate person of Jewish origin so I could be shaken to my core and why have I never (not once) been asked to identify myself with an American Indian or an African slave or an Iraqi prisoner or a Sudra or a colonized nation or a Japanese living in Hiroshima or … I don’t even know who I should be identifying myself with so that mind shattering crimes become a part of my psyche. Why are there no elaborate narratives about these?

Friday, October 20, 2006

There is One who Sells Wilted Flowers he Picks up from a Nearby Flower Shop

Everyday I see / meet / sit beside / give a dollar to / refuse a dollar to / listen to winding tales I assume are lies / listen to winding tales that leave me afraid / make way for a pale, ghostly hobo / make way for a disgusting smelling hobo / make way for a frightening hobo who seems out to get me / feel a second’s desire to help a staggering, cold, swollen homeless / forget this homeless / read student poetry about how they feel when asked for money / listen to the radio during a snow fall – all homeless must go to the shelter, says the radio; those who will not go cannot be forced to go, says the radio / look at the yellow patch of snow and get angry with the insensitive bum who pissed on the snow- at the very center of the sidewalk! / see an empty pile of dirty clothes and wonder where the bum went – did he die? / forget this question / wonder where this woman, smelling of urine and something else more offensive is going…why does she ride the bus everyday? / walk past over a dozen inadequately covered men and women huddled on park benches, shivering in the cold…

In the US you cannot call people who beg beggars. Beggar is a politically incorrect word.

Homeless, the PC word connotes so much. It is discomforting. It means these dark dirty hands are not pleading you. It means somehow they have a right to ask…since you have a home and they don’t.
How did they loose their homes? I wonder.

In a country where language is riddled with paranoia some terms and some questions remain forever politically incorrect. I cannot ask a homeless where his home once was…he will take offense. I cannot go to an African American and ask for a scientific explanation as to why three out of every four homeless I see is Black. The African American society will take offense. And so will the entire US community, which does not see itself as propagating racial discrimination.

I must find my own answers and ask my own questions. If I want to ask someone else I must be cautious and rephrase my words till the words themselves become meaningless and the answers become too polite.

But I find it difficult to form a new question. Again and again the same question comes to me …In a nation where every foreigner finds a job, where the poor have televisions and cars and refrigerators, where food is not a problem, nor is education, where the value of each citizen adds up to almost a million dollars, where the government takes care of you in times of illness…in such a nation what causes such abject, such painful existence? Why does this happen?
Racism, I am sure, is the answer.
And yet it must be a sinuous, careful racism. It is not the racism I understand where discrimination is outright, where jobs are refused, in fact not even offered.
This racism eludes me. I cannot understand how it operates.

No, “Beggar” is the incorrect term to apply to these so many disastrously poor people in the US. Beggar is an economical term, a person born out of economic deprivation. Beggars are what we have in India and Nepal.
A homeless is born out of something else…it seems almost like they were born out of a breaking of will…and yet I don’t understand it, not in their term…how is this will broken? Why do they opt for this terrible life?...for it does seem like a life opted for…and yet, can one opt for such a life? Would I have opted for hunger and dirt and cold and death and pain if I had other options? And US is so full of options. It is the land of options. There are so many to pick and choose from.
I have seen poverty…and this somehow, does not qualify.

Sometimes there is a homeless who will refuse money if you offer. She will shake her head and keep walking.

Sometimes one will sit by the roadside and sing – a deep, beautiful voice. If you throw money into his cap he will bow politely and smile at you.

Some will talk very loudly to the world, laughing or cursing or simply having a conversation with it.

Some will pass lewd remarks if you pass them.

Some will refuse they are homeless. They will pose as travelers who don’t have enough to get back home. They will wear placards around their necks saying they need only twenty more dollars to get back where they need to, saying they will refund the donor who will donate the money, saying they will work if you provide work.
But they are there everyday, on the same spot, with the same placard around their necks, for months.

Some, with a bottle in their hand, will flaunt their drunkenness. You know what I will do with your precious money, they seem to be saying.

There is one who sells wilted flowers he picks up from a nearby flower shop.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Five Things Feminism Gave Me

In response to Annie's post:

Very difficult to carve out just 5 of the innumerable things i am indebted to feminism for...but trying it anyway...

1) As a child feminism gave me Ma, who because she was not born in an era when feminism was strong enough, did not enjoy the things I do now…but because she grew up questioning her own upbringing and watching the change around her fought for my education, my right as a female to stay away from the kitchen, my rights to wear what I pleased, not be treated as an untouchable when I had my periods, not be asked to shut up, go ahead and get a degree in theatre for which I often had to stay away from home till at night, go ahead and get any degree I chose to, to look at brothers and male peers as equals, to look at sisters with sympathy and understanding, to keep a level head above my shoulders, to be ambitious without being unkind, to accept responsibility, to…
There is too much I owe to her and her fight for my rights as a daughter…

2) As a student it gave me the right to compete at an equal footing…it gave me girlfriends who are my companions and guides, who are intelligent and smart, friends who are filled with adventure, with fun…such friends as only feminists can be…

3) As a citizen it gave me the right to vote, to have political opinions and ambitions, to have a passport detached from father or husband, to travel…

4) As a wife it gave me a husband who understands the meaning of equality, who debates with me, with whom I can experiment with sex without guilt or shame, who shares responsibility, who I know will take turns staying up at night when children enter the picture, whose financial handlings are not a mystery to me, who is not ashamed of cooking and cleaning and arranging the furniture, who would protect and fight for any woman’s rights, who does not have problems with having female bosses at his workplace…to whom I am married not because marriage gives me economic stability, social status and raw material for procreation, or because I am afraid or subjugated or don’t know any other way to live…but simply because I can love him as an absolute equal.

5) Feminism gave me the right to question seemingly set parameters like social codes and religious beliefs. Feminism has taught me to appreciate people who have made my life so much simpler than it had been for those before me. It has proved to me that a just fight has just rewards. It has challenged me to continue the questioning and the struggle so the generations after me can be stronger than I am.

Am tagging The Mad Momma
and anyone else who has something to say.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ragging - 4

Here is something I remember from school days:

Prathana refused to do anything the seniors demanded of her. She stood on her spot, looking at some point on the floor, refusing to speak or move…so the seniors modeled a skit around her. The dorm was a village and the newcomers were citizens of this village. These villagers needed water for their day to day existence. They could not return to their homes without water. What would people at home do if there was no water? How would food be cooked? How would rice be washed? What would they drink?
It was an elaborate skit.
There was only one handpump in the village before which the villagers formed one long, sinuous line, waiting their turn to pump water and fill their bucket.
No one could go home till they had used the handpump and filled their bucket.
Prathana was this handpump. Each newcomer – roommate, friend, cousin – came up to the stalk still Prathana, lifted her hand and pumped it up and down. The idea was the morning would never end, not till this handpump yielded water.
The villagers, which slowly grew to encompass anyone willing to be a part of it, would continue to lift and drop Prathana’s hand – once, twice, five times, ten times – till they felt their invisible buckets were full.
Meantime conversations would go on. Lines would be formed. Lunch breaks and tea breaks would be taken. The morning would remain a perpetual morning.
The idea was this would go on till the handpump yielded water. Till Prathana, tired, humiliated and broken would begin to cry.

Talking About Ragging...and Showing Off...and Rambling about Ragging...And girls I admire...and why we don't have to submit to ragging...

When I talk to those who have endured ragging there is always a nervous laugh that follows the retelling of their experiences.

We had to stand outside at the bus stand and invite all strangers coming out of the bus into the city, with our hands clasped, with an obsequious smile on our lips…I had to dance on main teri dushman dushman tu mera…I had to run around crying My ass is on fire, give me cease fire…

So far so good. So far the nervous laugh indicates that while the ragging was humiliating at the time, uncomfortable even, it is now bizarre at the most. A part of hostel life. Something they are ashamed of having participating in but which now that they already have they are ready to forget.

And forgive?

I don’t know about that. I spent 12 years of my life in hostels. By the time I was in ninth-tenth grade I knew all the ins and outs of ragging. The first time I was ragged I was in grade 4 and my ragging consisted of dancing and singing an English song. I was neither a good dancer nor a good singer but did what I was asked (replacing the English song with Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy, aaja aaja aaja).I was nine year old and it was the first time I had left home. I was awed by girls in grade 6. Girls and boys in grade 10 were gods.
6-10 graders who were “in charge” of “junior section ragging”.
Could I have refused even if I had wanted? These people whom I so looked up to…
I was a kid and was being ragged by children but I knew what was happening. I knew it intuitively. I knew I was somehow being “put in place” and I believed it was all right…or did I believe that? I am not sure. I don’t remember that part. All I remember is somehow I knew I had better do the singing and the dancing and later pay my respects to these seniors at ALL times. If I did that much I would be left alone.
I also knew what could happen if I did not comply. Kids are very cruel. They steal your tuck. They make fun of you. They tell on you. They don’t sit with you. They call you names. They don’t include you in their games. They bitch about you. They have jokes about you…And all this when you are vulnerable, away from home and really want friends.

It doesn’t change. What you are in grade 4 is what you are in BA 1st year. Hostels always evoke vulnerability in newcomers and friendship remains the most important bond.

Seniors are forever superhuman.

I learnt very quickly that the ones being ragged worst were the wide-eyed, overwhelmed kids. They got it worst. They got it bad if they obeyed and they got it bad if they didn’t obey. Kids who somehow knew how to take care of themselves were treated light-heartedly by the seniors, perhaps because the former themselves knew how to reciprocate to ragging with an amazing, almost inspirational light-heartedness.
It was truly amazing, truly inspirational.
Though now, after so many years, I wonder why I never became friends with those who accepted and delivered ragging with such suave casualness. They were a class apart… scornful and extremely loud and that outrageously confident laugh…even when they are in junior school…even then. They became buddies with the raggers, first carrying out the seniors’ tit-bit commands, then walking hand in hand with them, then sitting with the raggers as the latter called upon the next new kid to play basket-ball without a ball, to count the number of “partings” on their body, to oil their hair and tie two ridiculously high pony tails up their head (and go to school that way).
These, the next breed of super cool girls with innovating ragging techniques up their sleeves.

By the time I went to college I could do a Phd on ragging … and I had learnt not to call every senior “didi”. I was no longer super impressed by them, especially because some of the “didi-s” had failed their class and had sat dumb and stupid in the bench next to mine. I did not aspire to become them. I had learnt that a year or two of additional age does not necessarily lead to wisdom.

The chamchas or the next generation of raggers are just that ~ chamchas. They need somebody they can flatter and they need people who can in turn flatter them. They take great pride in being the feared group. Because they are as loud as a bunch of bellowing bulls, even the hostel staff seem to stay away from them.
...Which, by the way, does not mean that the hostel staff likes or favors them. A hostel is a commercial institute and will support what is commercially beneficial to them. What is commercially beneficial to a hostel largely depends on its student body. If a large group of the student body decides not to stay in a hostel where ragging is rampant, the institute will have no option but to take actions. It is only because the student body endures ragging that ragging goes on.

During the years in my school hostel I developed a lifelong respect for the “whiners”, aka the people who will just NOT take ragging. When asked to dance the whiner would remain rooted before the seniors for hours, not moving a muscle. The whiner would stand and not speak a word till the seniors tired and fatigued by the obstinacy would dub the person some lame name like wet-blanket or spoil-sport or horror of horror behenji and leave.
It is difficult to live with these lame names, not because the seniors have called you that but because your peers take hint and form opinions about you.And all this when you are vulnerable, away from home and really want friends.But the point is the seniors leave.

The other school of whiners cry, either silently or they bawl. Either way, if the senior wants to stay out of trouble and not be embarrassed to death, they had better LEAVE the girl alone!

There are those who create a scene…show their fingers, yell, threaten to “tell to principal”, form their own cool gang, become teacher’s pets, be “unreasonable”, not see the fun side of ragging, refuse to understand the social connotation, don’t care to break the ice with the seniors, don’t care if the seniors and their peers hate them, really are just sick of it all, SICK of it all…

The seniors concentrate on ragging those who will allow themselves to be ragged. It is in the senior’s favor to let the unraggable ones alone. Oftentimes there are more than a hundred students in a hostel. Not everyone of them gets ragged.

Those who claim to have enjoyed the time they were ragged say so because they are eagerly awaiting the time they themselves will be able to rag the future generations. They are aware of the fact that while being ragged lasts only a year, the privilege of ragging can last many years.Technically, in school, after I had been ragged in grade 4 I could rag my juniors once I hit grade 5 right up to grade 12.

In college I met ragging again and the super cool sophomores sticking up with the cooler seniors. I met these bullying, loud, unimpressive girls who set up arbitrary rules in the hostel. The newcomers, they said, were not allowed to wear jeans. The newcomers could only wear salwaar kurta. The newcomers could not visit the canteen. The dance hall was not open to the newcomers unless some senior asked them to come to it (in which case you were straight back to grade 4 and straight back to dancing and singing ridiculous songs). The newcomers who wanted to go out on an outing had to wear tiranga salwaar-kurtas … a different colored pajama topped with a different colored kurta draped with a different color dupatta. The outing going newcomer had to have their hair oiled. In the refectory the newcomers were required to act as the seniors’ waitresses, fetching water and food for them.

Honestly, I know very little about what went on in my college as far as ragging was concerned. Eight years of prior hostel experience, a row with Barkha and gang, and a best-friend who was as stubborn as a bull (did she give the seniors a hard time! The sweetheart!) kept me away from ragging. Preeti and I wore jeans throughout our junior year, we visited the canteen, we went to the dance floor, we went to outings dressed as we pleased. We never fetched water for any senior. Not once. Preeti was into sports and oftentimes in the basket-ball court when the ball bounced out of bounds into the bushes the seniors would ask the juniors to go get the ball and the juniors would go without questioning. I would watch with beaming pride the equanimity with which Preeti refused to get the ball.
Refusal is humiliating to a bully.
At another instance when the ball rolled out the court Preeti turned around to a senior and asked her to go get the ball. How defiant, how wonderful that moment was! How I giggled and how straight faced my friend was, pulling off the joke with absolute charm!

Ragging 3

It trickles down…the charm of not allowing yourself be pushed around…and Urja, the shyest girl in our group was soon affected. When asked to stand up Urja would promptly sit down and say “I will not stand!”. When asked to sit she would stand and say “I will not sit!”. Sometimes, in the mess of it all, Urja would stand and say “I will not stand!” then sit and say “I will not sit!”. It was hysterical and confused Sunaina no end, who probably forgot why she was asking Urja to stand and sit in the first place. And Urja, that shy, softly smiling Urja, what a mad sight she was, bobbing up and down, refusing to sit or stand!

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Thing About the "Universe" is :

Do read:

and then go ahead and read the entire blog. It's fun as hell.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Thing About the “World” is:

There are 193 countries in the world

Out of this 15-20 countries form the World Cup Cricket.
Some 33 countries team against one another to form World Cup Football/Soccer.
(Please fill in the blanks about how many go for World Cup version of Basketball. I don't know the number).
One country makes up the "World" in the World Series Baseball ~ America.
In America, Super Bowl or World Series [American] Football is considered the most famous game in the "World". All of America watches it.

Another Debate that Went Way into the Night --- About Texts and People and their Interrelation

But have you read the Quran? No? Then how are you so sure that the Quran says just that and that? How do you know so much about the Quran anyway? Where does your information come from? How is it that you trust your media so much?

Coming to the media, have you ever wondered what the media means?

You live in America. Arabic media does not reach you here. No news of Iraq and Pakistan and Afghanistan until given to you through American TV, newspaper and the .coms.

[And yes, that holds true for India too. You only know the war fought upon the Indian land through the Indian perspective. Isn’t that how History is formed, with the sea saw heavily tilted to one side? (Don’t you think there must have been more freedom fighters who fought for India’s independence, many of who must have been Muslim? I don’t know the name of any though. But isn’t that how History is formed?)]

But the Quran still does not feature into all this. Just like the Bible does not feature into how the American media conducts itself.

Are you very sure the removal of Islam from politics in Islamic countries will bring peace and order?
Stalin ruled and murdered without religion, so did Hitler.
Killing Jews does seem like a very religious thing to do…Jews being a religious sect. How come you don’t view the World Wars as a religious war? How come you don’t bring the Bible into this entire picture?
Why do I feel that had Hitler been a religious person he would not have killed?

Slavery was justified using the Bible.

And what about Abu Gharib torture and abuse? Why do you not blame Christianity for this inhumanity? Why is the Abu Gharib just another political/moral crisis?
Would you call such torture if conducted by Iraqies another political/moral crisis?

I quote from wikipedia. This is Ameen Saeed Al-Sheik, detainee No. 151362 telling about what happened at the Abu Gharib prison.
'Do you pray to Allah?' one asked. I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.'" [...] "They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive." [...] "I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, 'But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'

“Jesus” is used as a word here, would that make this a Christian crime?

When you say Muslims always put their religion before their nation, before love, before life, before humanity, do you mean ALL Muslims or just certain Muslims? A substantial percentage of the African American population is Muslim, as is a substantial population of Black Africa. Do you think the African Americans will fight for Iraq in a war between the US and Iraq?

Why don’t you think of the African Americans as Muslims? They worship Allah too, why are they not a part of the Jihad?
Why do brown skinned, tall, dreamy eyed men come to your mind when you think Muslim? What about the black skinned? The mongolian featured?
If the fault is in the religion itself wouldn’t it affect everyone and anyone practising it?

And if Islam turns people evil because the Quran says so, what about Taslima Nasreen? What about Rushdie? Nushrat Fateh Ali Khan? And the SEVERAL other singers. What about Shah Rukh Khan and the other Khan dons of Bollywood? What about cricket? What about Michael Jackson who converted in 2003? What about Mohammad Ali?
How come you don’t attribute these people’s secularism to the Quran?

Give me proof that a Muslim general in the Indian army will sell India to Pakistan. So far I hear no names.

And what about Gulzaar and Ghalib and Javed Akhtar and Shabaana Aazmi and A.R.Rehman?

Is creativity a product of the Quran too?

In Nepal, the only Hindu country in the world, there are armed policemen standing at temple gates to keep non-Hindus out. That translates to violent, religious discrimination, doesn’t it? If the American TV showed pictures of men with guns standing before Pashupati Nath, what would everybody else think about the Hindus?

Do the Shiv Senas represent Shiva?

But if the media tried and the audience REALLY wanted to then would it not be the easiest thing to represent Hindus as a bunch of miserable fanatics?

It’s not about religion, not about Hinduism or Christianity or Islam. Religion and relgious texts have nothing at all to do with the state of our world. But yes, dogmatism, indifference, irrationality, cruelty, herd mentality, close mindedness, hate, superior/inferior complexes, fear, greed…these are responsible. Just like Christianity did not teach the prison guards to torture the Abu Gharib prisoners and the Bible did not allow the Western world to enslave people from Africa and Ramayan does not tell us to domolish mosques and burn our brides for dowry, the Quran does not propagate violence…and unless you have read Quran as it is, interpreted it as it is, weighed and counterweighed all its arguments and complexities, understood it without bias and prejudice, there is no argument at all.

By the way, had there been a direct co-relation between texts and practices, Hindus would have been a group of sexually expressive and free people who believed in swayambhars and love marriages and single parenthood, the Christians would have been absolutely Virgin, and the book that allows a woman divorce, takes a woman’s consent before marriage, gives her the security of Mehr would have treated women folks with so much more respect.