Monday, February 19, 2007

Cradle to the grave

We've got some very smart people running our country. No, really.

India has a disconcerting sex ratio of 933 females per 1000 males. The government is aware of the fact that the reason behind this dilemma is the general indignant attitude of the society towards the girl-child and the resultant uncontrolled & increasing instances of female foeticide. So far, so good.

Guess what! The government has a great solution to this problem – set up cradle services all over India. Instead of killing the girl-child when she's just a foetus, parents can then simply 'deposit' their newborn daughter at one of these government-run cradle services. Wow. The government will take good care of them. You bet. Yes, you're right.

Some fools, like you & I, did tell the government that the scheme might (or might not) decrease foeticide but it will certainly do nothing to curb discrimination against women in India. In fact, it will certify it and, consequently, encourage more families to abandon their daughters.

The powers-that-be say sagely, "It doesn't matter. It is better than killing them."

Such thoughtful people, no? When God was handing out brains, we turned up with sieves, didn't we? But the politicians, they're so intelligent and concerned. They are absolutely right. It is better that those girls live and suffer in those government-run cradle services. They'll be robbed of their futures the same, but at least they will know what they have been really robbed of and who were the perpetrators.

No, no. This one's no hot air. The government is sure to implement this scheme. They must, for a project of such gargantuan magnitude and humanitarian attitude is sure to earn them some brownie points in the next elections.

Before the end of their tenure, they will set up cradle services all over rural India. Then, they will use it to get votes.

If they win, they will promptly appoint some NGOs to take care of the cradle services. (We've been over how nice those NGOs of ours are.)

If they lose, then it becomes the new government's headache. Simple.

You're right, again. Why not reinforce such measures as educating people to treat girls as equals, punishing foeticide practitioners harshly and securing the rights of the girl-child?

Firstly, such long-term solutions will take much longer than the government's tenure in office. And, secondly, such solutions are wimpy. They don't help win elections, now do they?

(First published on Bhéjaa Fry. Read comments by readers here.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

The afternoon of realisation

On a dull Sunday afternoon, after a shopping spree that failed to become one, I was returning home in a cab. At a traffic signal, a mid-sized car pulled up next to my cab. Instinctively, I looked in its direction. There was a young guy at its wheel and a young girl sitting in the front passenger's seat. The girl had her face dug in her hands. Seeing a hint of a paper napkin in her hands, I assumed it might be a routine mascara accident she's remedying.

The car's windows were up. Just when I was about to look away, the girl raised her head and the guy promptly slapped her across the face. She shouted something at him and he slapped her again. She returned to mopping her tears with the napkin. None of my business but I was shocked and, unbeknownst to me, had made it apparent. I had uttered something to the effect of or actually the words, "What the fuck?"

The cab driver had seen the entire episode too. He said, "That is just wrong, you should never hit a woman. Shout at them, argue with them but never hit a woman." I was gladdened. I had half-expected him to have an opinion let alone a good opinion about the subject.

I thought to myself, "The guy in the car is obviously well-off but look at the way he treats women. And look at this cab driver. He must work really hard to make ends meet. But his views about women are so nice and…" But before I could pin a medal of honour on the cab driver's khaki lapel, he continued. "When you hit women, it pushes them over the edge. Then they will sit on your head. They will start dominating you. They will make your life hell by telling you to do this, that and the other. You should never let them dominate you. You should show them their place – next to your shoes."

As the signal turned green, the cab driver, thankfully, shut up. And I started realising why a majority of women have such colourful opinions about men, in general. Their opinions fit most men to the T.

Until I went to Sri Lanka, I used to think that while this disparity exists across the world, it is more prominent in India because ours is a patriarchal society. Here men are expected to be men. They can get away with murder. But, no matter how 'liberal' the new generations become, daughters are treated as the substandard offspring. Parents have their hopes pinned on the son, regardless of how prodigal he might be or how promising their daughter might be. Opinions are neatly divided as to what is becoming of a man (which is 'everything') and what is unbecoming of a woman (which, again, is 'everything'). Scarily, the attitude has been so deeply engraved on people's brains that even women consider it the correct way, even the ones in no danger of incurring society's wrath for having an opinion.

The situation across the Palk Strait isn't any different. The Sri Lankan Burghers (descendants of the resident Dutch, Portuguese and British) are the most liberal among the island's races. In fact, so liberal are they that their women are considered 'loose' (in other words, 'easy' or 'fast'), by others, and their men have more bail receipts than educational degrees by the time they turn 20.

The boys are allowed to do whatever they can think of right from 12 years of age. They can have many girlfriends (sometimes, even boyfriends), drive drunk, go to jail, smoke weed and be proper louts. In fact, a couple of my male colleagues there told me, amid bouts of laughter, how their mothers had caught them doing weed and let them off with almost no admonition. Men will be men, you know.

The girls are no less either. They are allowed to have boyfriends once they are 14, they are allowed to drink and be out partying till the DJs come home.

Materialism, divorces, neglect, apathy and almost total absence of emotions, logic and sense are the order of the day. Here's the ace. Theirs is a matriarchal society.

Then again, why should I be bothered? I am a man. Well, that's exactly why. It affects me because, given their upbringing and maybe past experience, most women come pre-programmed as to what to typically expect of me. And then, the relationship becomes a circus where I have to demonstrate how I am not what they had been expecting of ordinary men.

Conservative or liberal, veiled or open-minded, whatever the society we live in, the discrimination exists. This is, probably, the only area humans have not developed in at all.

But is it just society? Do we owe it to the way we are brought up? Or could it be genetic?

(First published on
Bhéjaa Fry. Read comments by readers here.)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Silence please. Players are ready.

After a baffling 6 months on the fence, the ball is finally in the other court.

After years, I have a worthy player against me. Well, I understand that that statement reeks of pompousness. But I didn’t intend it to. Quite the contrary actually. After years, I have someone worth going to all the trouble for. After a lifetime, I have someone worth winning over. And, probably for the very first time, I know it right from the beginning. This isn’t a game. This is many games in one.

With hands cold as death and a chill down my spine, I restlessly shift my enormous weight from one groaning leg to the other. Waiting. Sweating. Contemplating. The sunshine of optimism isn’t helping today. It’s there alright, but there isn’t enough of it to go around.

My eyes nervously follow the ball as my resplendent opponent (there should be a better word to describe her) evaluates it. She has been dribbling it for many heart-stopping moments now. But she isn’t done yet. Hmmm, I’m glad. I’m hoping she’s taking her time because she considers me worth considering. I need to be more patient, I think to myself.

Pregnant with millions of possibilities, entertaining some very strange thoughts, busy considering countless endings to this story, my mind competes with my heart. My racket imitates them both as it flips between extremes, in my hands.

Will she surprise me with an ace? Will she simply hand it back to me, politely? Will she walk away? Will she pocket it as a souvenir or, worse, a curio? Will she return it to the nearest waste receptacle, the first chance she gets?

How I wish she played the ball back to me. Then again, if she did, will it make it safely over the net(tles)? No, I will not let that bother me really. I’ll scale the net if the need be. I'll walk over it. I’ll tear through it just for that pseudo, hindi-movie-romantic effect.

You need some craziness in your life. You need to do insane things like that sometimes. 'It would be fun to act a little looney', I convince myself. 'It would be very me.'

The score, right now, is LOVE – 1.

Interestingly, I’ll win when the score becomes LOVE - LOVE.

(First published on
Bhéjaa Fry. Read comments by readers here.)