Archive for Angst

And so Hyderabadis watch in horror as the city lurches from one crisis to another. The latest, the communal riots in the ‘old city’, opened up fissures that one thought were buried and gone.  I feel  desperate, drained of hope, and very,very sad. This too shall pass…maybe.

Just thought I’d share this poem here. Did it in class a couple of weeks ago; it was just poetry then. 

The Ambiguous Fate of Gieve Patel, he being neither Muslim nor Hindu in India

To be no part of this hate is deprivation.

Never could I claim a circumcised butcher

Mangled a child out of my arms, never rave

At the milk-bibing grass-guzzing hypocrite

Who pulled off my mother’s voluminous

Robes and sliced away at her dugs.

Planets focus their fires

Into a worm of destruction

Edging along the continent. Bodies

Turn ashen and shrivel. I

Only burn my tail.

Gieve Patel

(Patel is a doctor by profession; a Parsi by birth; and a poet, playwright and painter by choice.)


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The Wall

I know what should be out

and what should be in.

But then

what’s this window doing here?

– Ismail

(trans. V. Narayana Rao)

(Source: Twentieth Century Telugu Poetry. An Anthology

Ed. & trans. V. Narayana Rao. OUP: 2002)

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Birth, control, and the pill

The oral contraceptive pill: few women would deny its role in female emancipation because of the control it provides over reproductive choices. A post over at the Gender Across Borders blog (a recent find, and one of my favourite haunts of late) on contraceptive advertising in the US set me thinking.

Contraceptive ads in India have come a long way since the antiseptic, sanitized ads of Nirodh and Mala D—government products, freely available at all public health centres, and probably still the only affordable choice for the lower and middle strata of society. The ads centred on family and spacing children. Which is not surprising, given the audience they targeted—people who would probably not be comfortable with any public discussion of birth control. (Anyone from that pre-remote-controlled-TV generation will have plenty of fun memories of squirming parents and other elders, of forced loud conversations, deliberately and hastily started to drown out the ads … while children giggled.)

The 1990s saw a radical change in contraceptive advertising, at least as far as condoms were concerned. Kamasutra (and Pooja Bedi) started it all off and others followed—Moods, Kohinoor. The focus of these ads is unmistakably on the pleasure of sex. Instead of the “anti-pregnancy device” rhetoric that Nirodh projected, they play upon “attitudes toward sex” and promote the condom as “an intricate part of the pleasure of sex”.

Fine. But hold on to that bit about pleasure. Remember that condoms are male contraceptive devices.

What about the pill? Well, after Mala D, I remember seeing ads for several other brands of pills, mostly in women’s magazines such as Femina. And they emphasized the ‘hassle-free’ life pills promised. That is, their focus was on unwanted pregnancy: with control over pregnancy, women had greater freedom to do other things in life. I don’t recall any that spoke about the pill making sex a pleasurable act for the woman.

Today we have the emergency contraceptive pills—Unwanted 72 and the I-Pill. Ads for both these pills clearly target the modern, urban woman. One depicts a distraught young woman rushing, furtively, to an abortion clinic, and the other shows young women crying their hearts out because “they didn’t take precautions”. In both cases, the message is clear: use the pill if you want to avoid messy abortions and unwanted pregnancies.

There’s no denying the fact that the fear of pregnancy weighs heavier on a woman’s mind than on a man’s, since it’s an unequally shared burden, but is this a stereotype being promoted here? (Apparently there is already opposition in India to the way in which emergency contraception is being advertised: that it will encourage promiscuity,  that its message of a “tension-free” life is misleading, that it sends out wrong signals about abortion.)

Advertisements for the pill seem to promote it as a lifestyle drug. As the GAB post puts it: “as whimsical and enticing as any for clothes, shoes, or makeup,  showing pictures of young, smiling, healthy women,  and how much easier their lives are with the pill.”  There are even ads in the US depicting the supposed benefits of pills, such as cures for acne, PMS, etc.

The trouble is, as GAB asserts, “the pill is not a shoe, or mascara, and it is never a choice made in a vacuum.”

Also, ads for both condoms and the pill deliberately do not show the other side of the coin. While promoting the pleasure of sex, condom ads are silent about the risks of sexual behaviour. Similarly, oral contraceptive ads that speak of an easier life for women say nothing about their side-effects which all women who use pills know exist. But that’s the way ads function I guess.

What really bothers me is that the underlying rhetoric of contraceptive advertising  is gendered: pleasure for the man and protection for the woman.

Why? Why is contraception portrayed as a means of ensuring pleasure for the man, and as protection from the havoc of pregnancy for women?

Because pregnancy is the woman’s headache?

Because women have to think about sex in terms of procreation, not pleasure?

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The nine nights.

When God is a woman, and every woman is a goddess, we are told. Even if they’re violated, abused, humiliated, and unacknowledged by their men who genuflect before the Goddess.

Some break free and surge, like Ganga, towards new worlds, raging against the meshes of male expectations and guilt over unkempt homes.

And then there are the lesser goddesses. Who wake up at the crack of dawn, cook and wash for their family,  walk three miles to clean Ganga’s house (so she can surge and rage) and then go home for some abuse.

Not all women are goddesses. What’s sauce for Draupadi and Kunti isn’t for Soorpanaka.  She has to be taught a lesson.

To be a goddess, you have to suffer like Sita, not Urmilla.

Oh, and last year along the same lines . . .

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Symbol, action and meaning

It’s not very often that you read  something positive about politicians.  And by ‘positive’ I mean ‘doing things they’re elected to do’. (Isn’t that sad? That we only get to read that they’re doing their job, not that  they’re doing much more?)

So when I read this news item in The Hindu today I was happy.  I’ve been following the  Lok Satta’s  survey of government schools, wondering if it would be just another report that tells us what we all know anyway.  And I was pleasantly surprised to read that they’ve transformed a government school in Kukatpally (the constituency that JP represents), giving it amenities like drinking water, toilets, and a clean, white-washed building.  At a cost of Rs. 60,000,  over a period of a fortnight, through donations collected by the party. Which makes you wonder: sixty grand plus two weeks  per government school.  Is this too much to ask of the government? Isn’t this the kind of thing one wants to see done with tax-payer money?

But of course the government has other priorities — like sponsoring Varuna Yagams to propitiate the rain-god.   (In the process, the TTD not only gets free publicity, it also gets paid!) And once the rains do come down, thanks to the monsoon, the government will of course claim credit and tell us: “See! We will bring the heavens down for you!”

What’s a government school by comparison? Pshaw! Insignificant stuff.

But I’m being foolish. Is education even on the agenda for the government? If it were, Kapil Sibal would be tackling the real problems plaguing education, like the  wildly diverging standards of schools  even within a single state,  not just across the country, and the commercialization of (and thereby restricted access to) education. Problems which can only be exacerbated by making school-leaving examinations optional and FDI the focus of reforms.

Education is all set to become THE  cash cow for  the next five years. Cui bono? one asks (not) in utter despair.

Tokenism. We’ve become so accustomed to it, that  we’ve come to expect it as the norm.  Not just tokenism, but symbolism as well.   Like Mayawati’s statue-unveiling spree? So much is being made out of it — that it’s  a symbolic act of claiming public space for the unrepresented, that its purpose is not self-glorification, but self-respect for Dalits.

And people actually buy this. That self-respect comes not from having decent education, healthcare, sanitation, and employment, but from statues! That all of these can be deferred, achieved at a later date once self-respect has been achieved.

Yes, Mayawati is an awe-inspiring  phenomenon; a Dalit woman serving as Chief Minister of the country’s most populous state for four terms is nothing short of a miracle. And yes, the media and opposition parties’ criticism is unfair, given the legacy of the upper caste parties as far as statues and memorials go.  So Mayawati’s statues become  symbolic  attacks on this upper caste legacy.

Again, cui bono?  The people whom  upper caste parties represent have the means, the resources, the abilities to  run their lives without government help. The people whom Mayawati represents do not.  Give them self-respect? Give them (her famed birthday) cake?

As S. Anand puts it in this wonderfully balanced piece on the issue:

“While symbolic politics have played a significant part in democratization, today this seems a convenient motive for the Dalit middle class leadership to sweep issues of class under the carpet and to talk exclusively of issues of dignity.”

Education is the only thing that can dignify the lives of Dalits.  And to think that Mayawati had the opportunity given to her to make this change happen, not once but four times . . . tragic.

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The ape-man cometh


(Image courtesyClicked by this blogger’s little brat in Hyderabad’s MMTS . Forgive the slightly blurred text — he wouldn’t wait for the train to stop moving.)

So some  fly-by-night outfit that offers to transform apes into ‘cool dudes’. Gah.  I can’t shake off the feeling that it’s an appalling insult to the good apes. I mean, did they ask the apes if they wanted to become men? (And, was  becoming woman even an option?)

So you’re thinking what a ridiculously trite flyer (which it is), but I urge you to look deeper. Last I heard, the evolution of apes into man is OVER, communication skills or no communication skills, so they’re now two distinct  species (debatable, I grant).  Surely they must know that? Which must mean that this is actually some sinister scheme to morph apes into men. Only, it seems, thankfully. Or wait. Since there’s no clue to the sex of the ape, is there some sex change involved,  too?

The mind boggles.

Do cast your eye on the last two lines. No, not on that orphan comma (although it nearly caused this blogger apoplexy) but that word Erragadda. As Hyderabad locaals know very well, saying that someone/something is at/from Erragadda always elicits a knowing smile. For outsiders — well, acute PC-itis prevents my telling you what that means, unfortunately.

On a serious note: There ought to be a law against absurd claims that ‘communication skills’  are some kind of miraculous mantra, meaning merely ‘Spoken English.’  The number of people who buy that is seriously unfunny.


Postscript:  Post dedicated to The Quirky One, who would have done greater justice. Verily.

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I will do my job. Only.

Ratnakar Choudry from Vanasthalipuram, Hyderabad, has this incredible photo to share with The Hindu:

caught snapping

Acknowledging the jaw-dropping integrity of people who refuse to usurp someone else’s work, the paper captions it thus:

 Presenting this year’s ‘not my job’ award to the National Highway Department (painting division).


Courtesy (and much gratitude to): The Hindu Metro Plus, Hyderabad, June 20.

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