Monday, September 9, 2013

Strange Rain

When I wake up,
the ground below my window
is wet.
The road outside my gate
lies in startled dismay.
The gurgling sewage underground
spews sloth,
and muddy puddles
cry foul.
The clouds above sulk
and stretch their swollen bodies,
only to grumble a low threat
and crawl back into
a sultry slumber.

The Custodian of Secrets

The custodian of secrets
has some secrets of her own, too.
When I dip a finger
down her throat,
I find
a bolus of semi realities.
A pastiche of my tales.
I sit in tea parties with her,
thin lipped and squeamish,
as she sinks her teeth
into the sugary crust

of a new saga.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Home Truths on a Certain Career Husband

I recently read Chetan Bhagat’s recent article on the recently released film ‘Cocktail’. (That strange sentence is just a tribute to the opening line of Bhagat’s article, believe it or not!). But this blog is not about how discomforting it is that the highest selling author in India can’t really write!


If you haven’t already read the article, you can find Bhagat’s ‘Home Truths on Career Wives” here.  

Bhagat takes off from the film ‘Cocktail’ (its regressive plot already blogged about enough) to talk about why Indian men should marry working women rather than choosing “hot phulka” making housewives. More irritating than the completely arrogant tone of his entire article, is his assumption that he’s got it so right when it comes to women!

Bhagat starts off about the male lead in the movie setting the wrong example by settling for the demure, domestic woman over the promiscuous, adventurous career woman.

While the movie was fun, such depictions disturb me a little. When successful, strong women are portrayed as finding salvation in making dal and roti for their husbands, one wonders what kind of India we are presenting to our little girls”, writes Bhagat.   

Thoroughly concerned about the plight of the young women of our nation, Bhagat goes on to give a list of reasons why a working woman is “better” than a stay-at-home wife. (I am not even getting into the basic fact that demure, traditional, promiscuous, successful, strong, and the other adjectives that can be used to differentiate the two female leads in this film are not all mutually exclusive).

Bhagat’s reasons range all the way from working women being able to contribute financially to the household to being able to understand “organizational issues” better than a housewife. Of course, since running a household requires nothing more than making hot rotis, how can a housewife understand something as intelligent and multi-dimensional as working in the outside world, right?

I am offended because some of the smartest and most open-minded and open-hearted women I know are stay at home moms. My own mother chose to start working when I was in high school but I am sure, much before that, she was just as receptive towards the work issues that my dad must have brought home.

The assumption that a woman (or a man) is only able and worthy if s/he is earning an income is flawed.  Studies have been conducted on the cost to a household and a country that a stay-at-home wife absorbs by doing unpaid work for her house. Moreover, it has been proven that unpaid domestic work gives the economy a boost. 

According to an article in Forbes titled Putting a Price Tag On Unpaid Housework: “If this work were incorporated when measuring GDP, it would have raised it by 26 percent in 2010.”

And the article ends thus:  This isn’t to neglect the enormous addition women have made to our economy by leaving some of those tasks behind to take on paid work. That can be quantified too: if they hadn’t flooded the workforce, our economy would be a quarter smaller than it is today. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the incredible value the unpaid household work women – employed outside the home and not – do every day for our economy.

My problem begins (and doesn’t have an end) at Bhagat’s assumption that there are two types of wives in India: the working wife and the housewife. What would he then call the majority of Indian working wives who leave for work after having single handedly finished all household chores and come back home only to do more chores before going to bed?

Bhagat’s disregard for housewives is extremely disappointing and goes to show that he obviously has no idea how much skill and effort goes into running a household efficiently. More importantly, someone needs to wake him up to the fact that there is nothing menial about doing work around the house.

I would have been slightly pacified if at least once in his piece he had shared that it’s about time men stopped sitting around while their mothers, sisters, and wives did all the work around the house. He, of course, gets out of this slippery situation by stating that his COO wife is not condemned to making hot rotis for him (kudos for being such a good husband?) and their domestic help does all that.  Easy for him to say, as one of the highest paid writers in India with a COO wife who probably earns as much! What about the majority of couples who cannot afford help? Or are these home truths only for affluent men who can compensate for their decision to “allow” their wives to work by arranging for domestic help?

Thus the under text of the entire article is that as husbands, men should decide if their wives should be working or not. You can almost hear him patting himself on his back for having “kept his massive, fragile egos aside to see women as equals” (his words not mine!) as he writes this article.

Perhaps, Mr. Bhagat hasn’t thought of the fact that women work because they want to. Not because being a working wife makes them a more desirable and valuable wife than being a house wife.  He needs to realize that men are not being magnanimous by settling for colder phulkas and one subzi instead of four (take a look at his other brilliant insight into the plight of Indian women here). 

It is obvious from his article that he has no idea about the realities of the gender dynamics that play out inside and outside of domestic spheres.  He needs to understand that life is not a swayamvar for men to breeze through as they pick out wives with the best qualities.

Besides, the dichotomy of the working woman versus homemaker doesn’t really make sense. A woman who is a homemaker today might choose to work tomorrow, or the other way around. What if a man chooses to marry a working woman and a few years down the line she feels she wants to stay at home? Wouldn’t that be a damper for a man doing himself and the nation a favour by choosing to marry a working woman!

Not surprisingly, Bhagat doesn’t once talk about the advantages or disadvantages of a working versus stay at home husband. Is that not a choice Indian women have? What if a husband prefers to stay at home and take care of the house while the wife earns? Does Bhagat feel this wife should be proud or ashamed of her husband for making her hot phulkas when she gets back home? Or is that a scenario that didn’t even cross his mind? Ironic since in his case, as a writer, one would think he must be the one staying home more often than his COO wife.

Bhagat’s argument about choosing a working wife is as simplistic as his novels. But stepping out of his juvenile storylines, his speeches and blogs on “real life issues” are problematic because they are read by young girls and boys and are perceived as… well… home truths! Unfortunately, regardless of my perception of him, a youth icon he is and the truth remains that many young people will be influenced by the things he says and writes.

Alternatively, he could have used this opportunity to tell boys and girls to introspect about gender roles and not make decisions about marriage on such insignificant issues as who makes dinner. He could have talked about how important it is for parents to teach boys household chores so when they grow up they can contribute efficiently to the household so that a wife’s desire to work is not burdened by the added responsibility of running the household herself. He could have told them that there is no shame in taking care of your own house. And that wanting to be a stay at home husband /wife, if one so prefers, is a personal choice that shouldn’t depend on your gender, as long as both partners are together able to manage household expenses and chores.

He could have taken some time to read what other saner minds are saying about matter at hand; such as Annie-Marie Slaughter’s much talked about article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All . Here Slaughter bravely and rather controversially says something that many of us have not had the courage to accept: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.

Slaugher argues that for women to truly be able to do everything they want to do (including being promoted and hold high positions while being a wife/mother), the environment within which we function needs to change. Women shouldn’t have to choose between work and home, just like men shouldn’t have to either. How many men do we know at high positions today who are also able to be as involved with the household and family as they would like to be? But if we as a society stopped looking at women as successful only if they are good mothers and wives and men as successful if they are able to financially support their family, maybe both husbands/fathers and wives/mothers will begin viewing marriage, family, and household as factors that make them happy and motivate them to do better, rather than barriers to what they really want to achieve.

As for Mr. Chetan Bhagat, it’s safe to say he’s just a few-points-something  below the level at which these discussions are taking place to really contribute positively to the situation. All I can hope is that people, especially younger ones, won’t take the things he says as seriously as they take his books!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

This ad set my blood boiling!

Have you seen the most recent MTS ad? I just saw it this morning and I couldn't find it online so it must be really new.

For those of you who haven't seen it, here is how it goes: It shows a creepy young guy stalking another (supposedly handsome) guy and saying something along the lines of "can I have just one date with your sister?"


I thought I'd heard wrong. Can I have one date with your sister???

The macho brother is a little irritated because this creep is catching him everywhere: as he is waking up, when he's parking his car, while he's at the movies and going about minding his own business. Nope, he's not irritated because some random sleazeball is after his sister, but because this guy is just in his way all the damn time!

So the creep keeps showing up at random places, saying "one date?"..."just one date....?" Till one day he (well, believe it or not) runs out of talk time! And has to shut up... lucky for the harassed brother, non?

But as luck would actually have it, the creep gets on to MTS and suddenly he's back with his demand to have just one date with the sister.

And the most shocking bit of the ad is yet to come. It ends with the brother getting really annoyed and saying "just go, yaar, just take her!".

By this time I am so in shock, I am not even sure if I've actually seen this during a commercial break in the morning news.

And what worries me more than the absolute trash I've just seen (and I don't mean just the news) is that many, if not most, people would see this as just another ad. Some would find it funny. And there would be others who see nothing wrong with what's being shown. It's just an ad, right?

First of all, this happening in the real world would be harassment! And no, not of the brother! Women in India (especially in a city like Delhi) are cornered by men like this everyday for their phone numbers or because they want to make some "fraandship". Creeps are Never funny for a woman. And a creep, asking your brother if he can have you for a date is not funny at all.

An ad like this really shows deep rooted perceptions towards women in our country. As if the fact that a brother being asked permission for dating the sister is not bad enough, what is most infuriating is the idea that people think it is enough for a brother to give his consent. Whatever happened to this sister we hear about? Does she even know that there's a creep lusting after her and her pimp of a brother has just given his green signal to "just take her".

That's sick.

And what exactly does the brother think this creep wants to do to his sister on this one date? No prizes for guessing! It is quite apparent from the way the creep looks and acts that he's not meant to be attractive and if he would actually ask the sister out, she'd probably say no.

Is it, then, a mere coincidence that the brother eventually says "Just take her!".

So what MTS is essentially trying to say is: if you stalk or harass someone enough, they will surely give in to you. Better still, if you irritate the man who owns the woman you desire for long enough, it won't be long before you can "just take her".

Isn't that just a great message to send to the men of our country!!

This is, of course, not the only ad that is completely inappropriate. Seen the Airtel 3G Facebook ad? The one in which a grandson and grandfather use Facebook on their Airtel phones to hunt down a really old woman and sexually harass her in public? This because years ago her husband had kissed the grandfather's wife without permission.

Women's bodies have always been the public sphere that is used for men to play out their revenge dramas. And the absolute casualness that's being used in these ads is what is really scary. By accepting these ads or even by simply dismissing them, we are essentially making it ok for women's bodies to be the object of abuse, ownership and trade on television. Can it be any clearer that we as a society do actually believe that this is what women are for?

For those of you who say "chill, it's just an ad", you may need to think about what ads are for. Unlike films (esp Bollywood films that are often way beyond most Indians' realities), most ads these days are about the Indian middle class and what they give value to. Ads show you who you can be and who you should want to be.

This MTS ad shows a young, upper-middle class, modern man. But what we also get to see is this man's perception of his sister. In real life, he probably does not want to pimp her off to the first creep that comes along but he does think that she needs to seek his permission for all such matters and that she adhere to his rules. After all, he is her protector till she can be passed on to another man through marriage for safe keeping.

Let's flip the situation for a minute. Suppose the sister chose to date some random guy (or even the creep) the brother didn't' approve of? Would he respect her decision? Would a girl who has a crush on the brother need to seek the sister's permission to date him?

Similarly, in the Airtel ad, the old woman who gets kissed forcefully in public is paying the price for her husband's misdemeanors in his younger days. The message here is once again clear: men will be men and they have urges. And they can impose themselves on any woman as and when they please - be it for pleasure, revenge or anything else they bloody well fancy.

The brand names and contexts change but the bottom line remains the same: women belong to the men in their lives and their life choices, sexuality and bodies are controlled by these men who have the power to restrict and ravage them as they please.

Those who think these ads are just ads definitely are unaware of or are in denial of the power dynamics that are constantly playing out between male egos and female bodies all the time. At the risk of sounding dramatic, any routine activity outside of the house is sprinkled with various shades of harassment: be it going for a morning walk, buying groceries at your local shop, making casual eye contact with the guy in a car next to your auto or wearing what you damn well want to wear.

Unfortunately, there are no quick fix solutions. But I think as "educated" people we need to make an effort to engage with these issues. For starters, we need to stop distancing from them by treating them as unreal elements of our society and our lives. The minute we think "it's just an ad", we start trivializing the uncomfortable, the unfair, and oftentimes, the horrific realities of most Indian women.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


It was in the folds
of that
grey matter.
Coiled against
clammy corridors.
When it lengthens,
stretches out,
its ruby eyes blink
and stare.
Its raspy tail

Some days are not
for standing up
and to be noble.
Some days
are meant for
spewing venom.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bad Omen

I should have known,
when I first sat
on that (forbidden)wooden threshold
of your house
that this was the bad luck
that they were trying to shoo away
from under my feet
(and yours).

Sunday, February 28, 2010

And Us

We were fools.
We owned the world
(only) in the twisted fantasies
of our own minds.

Once words and meanings
showed their true colors,
we had nothing
but the gaping empty truths
of our lying bodies
(ringless and bare necked).
And a story that trespassed beyond
soured dreams
pointing fingers
and feminism.