Category Archives: Books

My obsession with Sita

Standard

My obsession started long ago, much before I realised I was named after this goddess and someone remarked that that community never names their girls after Sita — since she suffered so much. And turns out the building I live in is named after one of her children.  But trivia apart, Sita still fascinates me.

It all came together one day when one friend was narrating a conversation she had with someone else. This friend had an arranged marriage with an unconventional beginning and today had a smooth relationship with her husband.

She leads a life like any of us do — works, runs a house how she feels like (doesn’t feel compelled to cook in short), has her friends, does her thing, spends money as she feels fit. Her friend mentioned to her how great it was that her husband treats her well and lets her do what she wants.

It rankled when I heard this but I thought may be the person making the observation truly had a bad relationship. This conversation came to me out of the Dubai. Subsequently I heard of another similar conversation between two women, one telling the other how great it was that her husband let her do what she wanted and gave her space to do what she wanted. This came from the US.

I kept thinking so maybe couples are stuck in a time warp abroad trying to preserve their Indianess and not really questioning the very roles they claim defined them. Then someone in Mumbai mentioned how it was great her husband let her work, let her do what she wanted and even let her decorate their house.

Somewhere along the way I lost my cool. I kept asking the last one who said this to me, what was so great if he treated you well??!!! Wasn’t it normal behaviour? She turns around and tell me, it’s okay for people like you to talk like that.

The silenced me. People like me? Unmarried was the first thought that crossed my mind but she said feminist. Or rather murmured it. And that stumped me. I didn’t think I was the feminist types. But if not being grateful for good behaviour from your partner is feminism, I guess I am a flag-bearing, card-carrying member.

I always get into trouble for this but whenever I have a conversation I am not satisified with, I replay the conversation with someone else, who I think can give me another point of view. So who else but a man.

He agreed with me that yes women place far too much faith in one person who happens to be their husband. Women today are very independent and take on so many decisive roles. Even after marriage they are usually more available for their ageing parents than sons but these women still glad when their husbands treat them well.

So why this conditioning? Why this gratefulness? Why this abject thankful attitude for something that should be a given?

A professor friend mentioned it to me in passing that it has perhaps been handed down to us in our mythology itself. Sita, the wife every woman aspires to be, is often the ideal myth. To be the ever-sacrificing, pious and pure wife.

That brought me to Ram. As mythology goes, to me he is flawed. Instead of encouraging his praja to think in a fair manner, he abandoned his wife. Maryada Purshottam aside, this itself makes him less of a king.

And to worship to the woman who still treated him like he did no wrong cannot be the best situation. Her other avatars where she stands up for her rights and rights the wrongs are better myths to follow.

But then I chanced upon  some reading material and one neat movie that made it clear that while Sita may be what she was, contemporary times were slowly revisiting her myth too.

The book Retelling the Ramayana is a powerful book in that sense because Ram faces censure from his own for abandoning his pregnant wife. And other female characters from the Ramayana who are strong voices but have been rendered mute in the patriachal tale.

And then there was the movie: Sita Sings the Blues. I don’t know how I missed it all these years. But I chanced on it here and caught the whole movie online. And realised it was possible to view Sita in a different light. Another opinion, that has also made a popular feminist icon, is that though independent of thought and action, she still let her man make her decisions.

While some may point out that it is a bad example to set, others also say that it was finally she who took the all-important decision of  asking Mother Earth to consume her. She abandoning him, not the other way around, which should have been the focus. I guess it’s easier to look at the smaller picture and think of how he abandoned her at her most trying time.

Somehow I forget now why I was so angry when I started this post. It lay in the ‘Drafts’ section for a while and now that I am ready to post it, I realise,  there isn’t any anger any more.

And for those who are interested in Sita, check out this movie. All four characters have names of the goddess and four stories are about women empowerment (with Bollywoodisation I guess).

Advertisements

Can’t we just agree to disagree and leave it at that?

Standard

This story from Mumbai Mirror made me realise that yes, we are increasingly submitting to more and more of self-censorship. The eventual result may be just for less damages (physical largely) but the subliminal effect on our psyches is damaging. We are, by default, not wont to even court debate, lest something dangerous were to be unleashed.

Last month, at the opening lecture at the literature festival at the Kala Ghoda Festival, Urvashi Butalia spoke about this very issue. I didn’t think about it much but one of her sentences stayed with me. “Today no publisher will even think of publishing the Satanic Verses,” she said. She was talking of about the fatwa that completed 20 years. She delved a bit into how publishing was slowly steeping in self-censorship.

It struck me that we are slowly reaching a point where we are getting averse to any criticism, especially the kind we cannot defend. This piece published last month and a follow-up done because of the ‘affected sentiment’ made me wonder if that’s the kind of society we are heading to becoming. Where someone who dares to disagree is thrashed or arrested or even killed. Which part of democracy allows for this kind of anarchy?

Religion and our now-infamous ‘culture’ are fast becoming favourite subjects. Muddled in all this are election agendas. Muddled in this half-informed but educated people who think ‘yes my local culture is disappearing so let’s thrash everyone who doesn’t agree to what I say’. Muddled in this are people who think technology and ‘IT’ brought this into India.What is ‘this’ I don’t know.

I saw Billu (Barber) some days ago and one entire sequence was ruined (ruined may be a strong word because the movie is strictly average) because every third work has been silenced because it was hajaam. I understand that in a nation of over a billion people, there will almost always be a group that does not like something but do we honestly have to cater to all and bend over backwards in doing so?

Such censorship is completely at odds with freedom of speech, which is a right our Constitution gives us.  Art, opinion, cinema, speech all should be voiced — even if it is some one like Mutalik who says what he says.

No birthday blues

Standard

It was my birthday recently and though I can never ask my friends for a specific birthday present (other than a list of books that I seem to always have), my friends still take a lot of trouble to come out with unique gifts that I will appreciate ( a red fake leather bag still haunts me, bought with my consent, only to not risk a friend’s anger… turns out I should have because am still held guilty for even allowing that bag to be bought).
Anyway.
This gift was not only the most interesting this time, but most appreciated by everyone. Check out the dice and other similar products here. Thank you Annie.
dscn1463dscn1469

The naughty tales of the translation Where are you going, you monkeys by ki. Rajamaryanan came specially tied up

The naughty tales of the translation Where are you going, you monkeys by ki. Rajamaryanan came specially tied up

dscn1471

It’s always the same… it’s never the same

Standard

People are always often categorised by the books they read/carry. In this I-am-a-more-intelligent-person-and-this-book-proves-it world, Marrying Anita gave me a lot of grief. I’ve had to come with many a answer… especially to those who, despite its obvious title, would ask ‘What is it about?’

I don’t judge people on the books they read (except maybe those who read Chetan Bhagat) because books do many things for me, and only one is, perhaps, an overall improvement-like goal. Most of the other after-effects of reading are frivolous and fun. The same author or a single book doesn’t always do all of it.. everyone reads some light and some serious … really… get over yourselves. But that apart.

Reading this book in any and all my breaks got a few raised brows and some even tried distracting me, “it’s chick-lit,” they said. So what, I fired back. What’s wrong with chick-lit — it’s light reading and always has a happy ending. (I hate the word chick-lit, so goddamn feminist). But this book cannot be categorised so… it resonates far too much and there is no ‘feel-good’ factor that one tends to associated with light, frothy writing.

The book is very obviously about the author and her trials to get married — it doesn’t matter whether she goes the ‘love’ way or the ‘arranged’. I say trials because that’s exactly what they are. Under the guise of educating women and creating a modern society, a girl/woman can’t be caught dead admitting she wants a husband. What’s so unmodern about romance, really?

As I read the book, and its glibness fell away, I remembered one evening at GK II restaurant-cum-bar, talking (or rather listening) to this financial journalist who was also working on a book, about her man woes. She went through a few vodkas for company and went home, leaving me wondering. I distinctly remember thinking (not without a certain amount of smugness) I won’t (don’t or certainly, can’t) be like her. I was 27 then and she must have been 32 or 33.

Today, three years later, am not so smug anymore, reading her book, made me realise that even three years ago, I knew how close I was to becoming her five years later.

With men who are completely ‘honest’ when they say all they want sex without the trappings and women pretend, for some time, that they don’t mind this arrangement. It, of course, never lasts. And the men move on, the women move to newer men, determined to, this time, be ‘cooler’.

At odds with parents and the clan who think it’s your duty to everything possible to net a man. Gods are working overtime with old aunties who have made it their life’s ambition to get this thirty-something ‘girl’ married and introduces them to “37-year-old-boys”. Help!

Reading books like these makes you feel as though you have gotten a peek into the future and it all looks the same. Who creates all these ideals? Perhaps the happy-endinged books I mentioned earlier? Most friends who would be perceived as settled, constantly look for reasons to reaffirm their commitment, knowingly or unknowingly and certainly, kids nothwithstanding.

Then the single ones in your bracket, who are meeting men on the arranged marriage circuit (???) but pretend a studious indifference to the whole process. And when they find their match, avoid answering questions that could lead to them questioning their very choice. But hey, it’s your choice so at least there’s nobody else to blame. Or so I hope.

By the end of book, I was melancholic, sad and wishing I could meet Anita just once more. I am sure the conversations, over vodka, would be very different this time.