Sunday, March 5, 2017

The South, the North, and My Freedom


I grew up in a town in South India where time was plenty. We would come back from school after a sports session or a play rehearsal and still have time to do our homework, play, watch TV with Mum, and read books. The sea breeze would carry the pungent smell of drying fish towards the land, and the constant screeching of white-necked eagles and grey-necked crows would intertwine with the shouts of bus conductors asking the driver to speed up after all the passengers had got in.

It was a town slowly moving towards modernisation in terms of lifestyle, but the feeling that it was already modern in its thoughts was evident. Freedom had a different meaning in this coastal town in Karnataka. Although women were still not exactly ‘on top’ in terms of their place in society, I felt like I could breathe easy. I could walk to the store at night or maybe even ask a stranger for help.

Male dominance was felt only in a few places, and the women were not just educated to prepare them for the ‘marriage market’. I saw women working in banks, selling fish, or just doing a good job making a home. They roamed about freely on two-wheelers too – a rare sight in Delhi, even on Royal Enfield bullets.

Most people kept to themselves. Some still interfered in the lives of others, but judgments were mostly not made and prejudices remained undeveloped.

North Indians generally consider the South different. And they are right, it is different.  I learnt this when I first made my way to Delhi, the country’s capital, on a summer vacation. Delhi is in the northern part of India and perhaps embodies most of the ideologies that have made North India infamous. 

My brother and I remember every summer and winter vacation that we spent in Delhi with our grandparents as kids. Whenever the train made its way into the city, smells and sounds of a different kind would emerge. I would hear airplanes making their way to the runway in quick succession and see slums under the bridges, humungous amounts of traffic and two-wheelers, and cars of every variety.

When we would get out of the railway station, taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers would wrap around us like a swarm of bees, demanding to know where we wanted to go. Making one’s way around them was a task. We would then rent a vehicle from the pre-paid taxi booth in which we would take in the heat and humidity in the absence of an air-conditioner. This would prepare us for what would ensue the rest of the month in the capital.

For me, each place has its own smell. I remember what Delhi smelled like. It was like a pot of burned sweat garnished with diesel and petrol fumes. I felt like the city never slept - although now I know that it does with the increasing crime rate. People seemed enraged about something or the other. Even the school-going children with their huge bags spewed abuses at each other and fought over little things. All this seemed unreal, hateful.

 Every other day there was an accident on the road in front of Grandpa’s house. Men would slap each other; they had a hurried demeanor and were always ready for a good fight. Anger seemed to be the pulse of the city. It was nothing like the friendly South Indian town I lived in.

While I was a teenager, I also realised that women were treated differently in Delhi. For instance, I wasn’t allowed the joy of taking a walk there by myself. I still don’t know if it was just the city that had made this difficult or if it was because I was part of a conservative Muslim household. All I was told was, “you can’t leave home without your brother here, this is not Mangalore,” they told me.

My female cousins seemed very timid, while the male ones had the world at their feet. We were told different things in the north, and the rules for the boys and the girls were poles apart, not only amongst the Muslim community but probably more so among the dominant Hindus and Punjabis.

I am grateful to my parents that I did not grow up in Delhi. If I had, I would not have been half the person that I am today. I have been working here for about six years now and have also lived on my own for more than half that time. I find freedom in my work, in making my own decisions, but I still don’t smell the freedom. I want the freedom to laugh, to walk without a care in the world, to do what I can without a sneer. The pollution, traffic jams, rapes and “honor” killings are a metaphor for the smothering feeling I have woken up with almost every day.


Friday, April 24, 2015

What thrives within

Living in different places even for a couple of years, is enough for someone to learn what makes that place thrive, what the heart beat of each region is. 
I have lived in Mangalore, Bangalore and now living in Delhi.  I have been at different phases of my life when I lived in each city which helped me form myriad perceptions of these colourfully different places..

While in Mangalore Tulu, Kannada and consciously-spoken Konkani were distant and seemingly alien to me. I would speak them but not connect with them.
For me it was a town, not that I had lived in a city. but I knew that a city would have a dustier air to it.

Whenever people asked me where I belonged I would tell them I was from UP, to some others I would say I was born in Delhi, hence I am from Delhi.

When I came to Delhi, a little more than five years ago, was when I became a bit confused of my origin. Strangers asked me where I was from, coworkers sometimes joked about me being 'Madrasi'. I knew nothing of the northern Hinduism and till now had only some glimpses of the Islam I knew. I didn't understand the obsession with butter chicken or the hullablaoo over a masala dosa it vegetarionism on particular days.

The minute I heard someone talking in any of the south-Indian languages in a metro or bus, I would inadvertently align my ears to listen to them. I did miss 'home'.

Now, after I have spent a considerable amount of time as an adult in Delhi, I feel strange. The other day I forgot how to write a letter from the Kannada alphabet. I do still think a 100-rupee dosa is highly overpriced. My conversational Hindi has more traces of Delhi than of the Lucknowi Urdu I was thought as a kid. I continue to light up reading Kannada sign boards when I travel southwards but unconsicously always consider Urdu/Hindi more easy to speak in.

The idea of belonging to Mangalore, to Bangalore, to UP and to Delhi still thrives within. I will belong to places that have shaped me; their aromas emanating within me. 



Colours

It is now navy
But still murky
Pure cotton clouds
Hide behind charcoal ones

Moisture-laden dark shapes
lead the pack
Chrome sun and red earth
Shine in opposition

A game commencing
One loses another winning
A molten, magenta core
each second changing

Blue, grey and red
soon greening
And life spinning

Raining Friends

Monsoon seems to bring cherished memories for most. It also brings the prospect of prosperity for some others. It can also bring chaos.
For Delhi the idiom, when it rains, it pours, comes true in the literal sense. And it poured last week on a Saturday, and with it all movement, human and mechanical came to a standstill. The satellite towns near Delhi had a tougher time.
People whose jobs demand working on a weekend were finding it hard to get home from work. It hadnt stopped raining in the evening; there was still pitter patter on the road.
Of the four years that I have lived in Delhi, the rains havent stopped me from going anywhere. But I had to get to my gym, near my house otherwise I would miss my martial arts class, which I loved.
When me and colleague got out of our Noida office, the road outside was waterlogged, so much so that we couldnt walk through it. An office boy helped us find an auto for the Metro station. Being Noida he charged us double, only because it was raining. We paid; we had no choice, but to be extorted by the auto-rickshaw driver.
To get home I need to change trains at an intersection. That intersection looked like the crowd at Mecca, but circling around stairways and lifts. I fought my way to another platform and got into the over-crowded second one. I was relieved when my station arrived. But, I was in for a surprise, the train did not stop there, the station was drenched, the fault of a leaking shaft.
I got off at the next station. Half the people there were confused about where to go next. A girl walking next to me asked how she could get to a shopping centre. I told her I have to go there too, and we decided to share an auto.
As we got out, there was no auto in sight. We walked towards the main road, heading out from a by-lane. Then we saw why there was no traffic going towards the station; a huge tree had decided to take this day to come crashing down. There was more chaos. There was little space for pedestrians to walk, and none for vehicles to pass through.
As my new friend and made our way through the chaos, and were trying to hail an auto, passersby on a cycle passed a lewd comment and sped past, in day light. The day was just showing that it was Delhi.  Welcome to the rude, always angry city.
We asked an auto driver to take us to the shopping centre, and looking at his customers, the two abla naris, he quoted an exorbitant amount. I haggled with him for a good 5 minutes before he turned his vehicle around saying no, but in a last minute change of heart decided to drop us anyway.
On a normal day, even with some traffic, it should have taken us about 7-10 minutes on the journey. Alas, the drainage system, water-logged roads, delayed the journey to about half an hour. All I could see was people in a hurry.  Patience was scarce and anger was the pulse of the traffic.
The only solace I found was in making small talk with the girl.   

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Can a woman afford to dream?




Even though we live in the 21st century so to say, it seems women still have to make a constant effort in order to be treated as a human being with a heart, rather than a baby-making machine who also provide ‘household’ services.
Recently, I happened to hear about a family which lives in a town in central India and is surrounded by their close-knit community. Other religious and socio-economic communities co-exist, and have a similar way of thinking about family, the woman, the girl child and marriage.
The family I am referring to consists of five; the parents, two daughters and a son. The elder sister, who is now married and has two little children, had this to say to her younger sister, who is still in school, “Don’t study so hard, you are wasting our parents’ money. I will ask mother to get you married soon after 12th grade.” (When she turns 18). It is the age when girls in India are allowed to get married, by law. For boys it is 21.
This comment or should I say a conclusion derived from circumstances she had to endure or has seen, stirred my insides.
The sisters have another sibling, a male about my age. He is still doing his MBA. Before he enrolled for the course he was trying to look for jobs but did not land one. When this continued to happen, his mother exclaimed in a sour-grapy attitude, “Boys are not getting jobs because of over-ambitious girls.”
I am itching to dissect each word and the situations they were said in, to begin an analysis. But I would now stick to just the two that seem most prominent.
The thought process that women should not have a job or their only job is at home is deep rooted and is not unfamiliar, at least in India. Apart from the men who want to suppress the voices of women, and make them dependent on them for every need, it is the older female members in a family or a unit that also manifest such ideas. The thought that educating a woman is wasting money, because all she will have to do is take care of her husband and children with her nurturing demeanor, is engraved in brains of the masses.
What if a girl wants to do all this and more, have a career, or a passion that she can pursue? What happens to the dreams of a teenager who wants to be a pilot and fly across continents? Where is the place for a woman, from an average Indian household, to become a poet? It seems as if some women are treated as if they have no intellectual capacity.
The boy’s mother thinks her son isn’t getting a job because there are girls, over-ambitious ones, who are on the prowl to steal all the jobs available to men. She doesn’t even spare a second to think that maybe her son didn’t try as hard or was not as well qualified as somebody else, or the interview didn’t go well.
Whatever the reason, she refused to see that there was anything wrong with her son and blamed it all on women, who dare to step out of the house and out of their rightful place to a forbidden domain in search of a job.
Whatever century one is part of, discrimination of the ‘weaker sex’ has always existed. Whether it is religion, politics or a socio-economic situation that is the cause of such and other variants of suppression; what is sad is that the greatest quality of a being a female, the ability to reproduce, has been turned against her to make her weaker, to shut her indoors like an animal and to deprive her of passions and dreams.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The moon

When the sun plunged into the sea
The stars smiled 
The night became a theatre
my window the stage 

I drew breath, ready to perform
I began to share with the night's creatures
I moved as fast and as vivid
as the summer fire
envolping the jungle 
each branch, twig and leaf 
burned, weeped 

like the rain
like the peircing arrow
he tore my soul
crashing into, embracing 
each thread of my heart

quieter, calmer
I surrender

I give in to the moon
and its white path

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Scared of the cops

The police force was constituted apparently to protect civilians and maintain law and order. But of course media has brought to light several times their inability to do so. Some have even gone ahead and committed crimes themselves.
Police of different states and cities have also been accused of coinciding with governments to disrupt law and order, and allowing atrocities to take place. Basically allowing people to kill each other, under the banner of communal riots and letting rapes happen, shielding those who committed them — any minister's son — and sometimes even helping to commit the crime.
It is difficult to count how many times police have raped women in their police stations, allowed rapes to happen in front of them or just turned a blind eye to other crimes allowing them to go unreported.
More than feeling safe, when seeing a man in uniform, the feeling is to avoid him as much as possible.
I have never felt more violated than this one day when a cop seemed to have followed me from the market to my colony.
I live in a decent locality with a community centre just a stone's throw away. So walking to it at 10 in the night didn't seem unsafe. I bought a few things from a shop there and was walking back when a cop on his bike stopped next to me and asked me if the car parked further up was mine. I said no and he rode his bike but suspiciously very slow.
He entered the gate of the colony I live in, which is the first one after the market, supposedly patrolling on the main road of the locality. He confronted a man walking when he saw me enter through the gate, probably to buy some time. When he saw me pass he trailed his motorbike slowly behind me looking to see where I would go.
I hadn't feared more for my safety than at that point, more in need of security than then. I didn't want him to know where I lived, I was scared.
So I took a detour from where I hoped he couldn't look. I held back, waited to hear his bike move forward and then quickly opened the gate to my apartment and walked in.
It took me a while to get my heartbeat to a normal rhythm. All the horrific tales of policemen and other men in uniform, raping women catching them off guard or by using their 'authority' to commit the crime, came to mind.
Only few questions prevailed.
When can anyone in India trust policeman? When can I or any woman regardless of her socioeconomic background, at any point of day or night, ask for a cop's help, without fearing for her own safety, without being questioned about her integrity?