Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sticks and Stones!

Coming down to Kerala on a break is always such a pleasure! It is where you have grown up, after all, and spent many years, interspersed with joyful and not-so-joyful moments. The climate is the same, the roads are as dingy, there are myriad flats in place of individual houses, and all’s well in God’s Heaven.
The only thing that remains unchanged, and will always do, is the attitude of the people here. We Malayalis have a style of our own, which grants us the leeway to be extra familiar, and one step forward would take us to the brink of rudeness. And from the brink to a topple-over is the easiest step forward ever. It doesn’t even need a shove, however much the other party is provoked!
I walk into a friend’s home, and after the customary hugs, the first statement is, “You've put on weight, you know!”  This after regular walks, a strict diet and numerous packs of Sugar Free sloshing around in your system! I smile weakly, and nod, hoping that there’s an end to the matter. But open lips do not zip themselves up so easily! “Your arms have grown muscles, you know!” The friend’s mother has to add her pennyworth. “I remember you when you were in college! Such a slip of a girl zipping about on your moped! Such a pretty sight!” There would be a pregnant pause where I would heave a sigh of relief and try and change the topic to the pretty flowers in the garden, the polished tiles on the floor or the darned weather outside! But obviously my weight is a more entertaining topic, and the tirade goes on. “Your cheeks have grown!”
How do I remind them that I was born with apple cheeks, and that cheeks do not magically appear and disappear, but like Tennyson’s Brook, go on forever? “Uhhh… have you ever seen me minus my cheeks?” I venture hesitantly, and the reply comes in like a boomerang. “No, but they have grown rounder!” And the parting shot, a back handed compliment, if ever there was one. “But the weight suits you, you know? You look like a mother now!” A statement which will slowly turn into, “You look like a grandmother now!” if my daughter deigns to turn me into one, that is!
I stroll on the road with my sister, Bhanu, who is not even size zero. At sixty plus, she weighs 35 kilos! By sheer dint of comparison, I would look like a truck beside her. But it does not help to be told so. As the stroll continues, I see two familiar faces looming in the horizon and I tell Bhanu, “Watch out! The salvos are on their way!” And not once am I disappointed.
The elder lady adjusts her glasses, and looks me up and down. “Put on weight, have we?” Not that she ever means herself, even if it were true. “Really?” I croak, and strive to ask about her children, not actually recalling if she has any. But the second lady, younger and robust, puts a meaty arm on my shoulder and says, “Don’t you exercise? Or go for a walk?” A rather vague question, coming from one who is easily the size of a barn! The retorts stay on the tip of my tongue, maybe because of my upbringing, but I wish desperately at such moments that I were not so well bred!
I go home and ruminate moodily. Friends back in Chennai and their mothers and friends’ mothers do not ever call me overweight? Do people in Kerala eat special diets that make them a trifle more acerbic! And then, Eureka, it strikes me like a flash of lightning! I assume that people who have seen me as a child and a teenager still see me in that avatar. And when oft, on their couch they lie “in vacant or in pensive mood”, I flash upon their “inward eye”.  The image remains the same, and it probably jars them to see me change with the years. However, it would be rather unrealistic to imagine me as what I was when I was eighteen, especially after a delivery, a hysterectomy, a daughter’s wedding and half a century of good living!  I mean, it would be humanly impossible, unless you were Peter Pan! Or Rekha!
So I brace up, with a pretended nonchalance, and let the comments roll off me. I look at the mirror and see in myself what the others do not – a human face that tends to smile more than frown, an attitude that prods me on to feel that I am the best, and above all, a sense of humour that has come down in my genes and allows me to laugh most things off! Then I sit down at my laptop and hunt for an apt quote on the subject, till I come across one that “shines like a good deed in a naughty world”.
"It's an uncommonly dangerous thing to be left without any padding against the shafts of disease." So said George Eliot in Middlemarch, very conveniently, as it seems.
My mood lightens, "And then my heart with pleasure fills/ And dances with the daffodils."

17th December 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Uber Safety - Under Fire!

Yet another young woman is raped, and all the hype is back again! A Uber cab driver beat up and raped a 27 year old woman after she dozed off in his cab. He threatened to assault her with an iron rod, if she tried to scream, bringing back gruesome memories of the Delhi gang rape case. After which, he slunk away like the coward he is. Later, he told his wife that they would have to leave their home in Mathura.
This is a man who has two daughters and a stepson, supposedly a family man, but in reality, a monster who has raped earlier as well. Shiv Kumar Yadav is a repeat offender, who was arrested in 2011 for seven months in connection with a rape case. He was acquitted due to lack of evidence, which is what happens in more cases than not. Does lack of evidence mean that the man is innocent, or that the woman is the one to be blamed? Seven months in jail for a crime that should have ensured he was locked away forever?
What is this country we live in? Where laws are so toothless that they fail to protect the innocent? If only this man had been convicted in 2011, he would not have been around to rape again. If only, the court had taken into consideration the fact that a person accused of rape could actually be a rapist, despite lack of evidence, an innocent woman’s life would not have been ruined! If only the laws of the land were stronger against heinous criminals, monsters would think twice before taking the law into their own hands! If only… the saddest words ever in the English language.
In Kerala, some years ago, the train rapist who was left off leniently because he was disabled, ended up repeating his crime, as he threw a woman off a train and raped her.
The Delhi rape case killed not just the brave victim, but the hopes of millions of women in the country. Rapes have continued, unabated, even as the laws have been amended.  However, in the absence of strong deterrent action against the perpetrator, these laws are toothless, and often, he is awarded a light punishment that makes him feel that he can get away with murder, and often does. No wonder we tend to agree with Dickens’ Mr.Bumble, who said famously, “The law is an ass - an idiot.”
Why can’t we stand up as a strong society and condone the atrocities that are taking place? Why can’t the laws be strengthened in a way that the perpetrators are punished and not the victims? Is non violence being carried to such an extent that criminals are let loose to perform their monstrous acts over and over again? A man who rapes should be punished so strongly, and made an example of, in society, that he will never dare to look at a woman in such a light again.
Unfortunately, a rapist is brought out, handcuffed, but with his face covered, so that no one knows who he is. Why this leniency towards a man who has murdered all decency? On the other hand, he should be led out openly, his face splashed over the media, so that people know who he is, and protect themselves from him. Why should any mercy be shown to a man who has proved that he has not an iota of mercy within him?
If the argument forwarded is that his family should be spared the ignominy, that is sheer bunkum! What about the family he has wronged, the family he has torn apart in one fell swoop? What right does he, or any human being have, to touch even a hair on his victim’s head? Would he condone it if someone else did the same to his loved ones?
What is this country we live in, where we do not feel safe, where menacing strangers dog our footsteps, whether in trains, buses, apartments or within our own homes? Why is it we watch helplessly when loved ones are trampled on, even as the police, the authorities and the law, take their own sweet time to pass judgments? And once the judgments are passed, why do they leave us with a feeling of dissatisfaction, a feeling that not enough has been done, a feeling that our whole world is going to cave in on us? For the criminal gets back onto the streets in no time, and then, he seeks revenge, not because he is wronged, but because the person he has wronged has dared to fight back! Where is the sense in all this, how do we protect our own?
The ironic part is that Shiv Kumar Yadav confessed to his crime, saying, “Galti ho gayi, kya karoon ab?” (I committed a mistake. What do I do now?” There is no trace of remorse, only a feeling of discomfort because he has been caught. One gets the feeling that if he is let off again, he will not hesitate to go back and commit the same crime all over again, because if he is let off, he goes out with the feeling that the crime he committed was not a grave one!
Is that the impression that we should be left with? That rape is not an offence serious enough to be taken seriously? Is it because women are considered as the weaker sex? Then it is time that women also take up arms for their own rights. Schools should impart self defence classes right from the primary classes. Girls should be able to defend themselves strongly, and come out from the medieval mindset that proclaims them the weaker sex. Pepper spray, safety pins, and chilli powder will work better, if allied with the confidence that they can take care of themselves.
However, above all, we should stop being a passive society that looks on in silence when atrocities are being committed. Often, when a woman is being molested, there are whole crowds of people, men and women, who look on in total passivity. Where are all the good Samaritans? Too busy looking away because they do not want to get involved! What they tend to forget is that tomorrow, they could be in the same helpless state, watching their loved ones being molested, as a whole society looks on with apathy.
As James Clemens put it in Hinterland, “But often life asks much of you, and you either honor life by answering with all your heart, or you cower your way into the grave.”
Could we honor life by answering with all our hearts?


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