Category Archives: Gets my goat!

Dispel the dichotomy

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In these (politically and social-media driven or) charged times, I have begun to feel the need to confront the multiple dichotomies that exist within me. I feel it’s not enough to only mouth what you think you should feel. It’s also not important to only talk about what one feels. It’s necessary, for me, to bring those two planes on the same level.

It’s important to acknowledge all the areas in my life where I might not actually do as I say. I have never felt it more strongly. The more I look around, the more I see this everywhere, and in everyone. Where everyone, including me, reads one set of facts and reaches another conclusion,  that suit us individually perhaps. So what makes my right more right that of that person whose opinion I despise the most?

Some dichotomies that stand out more starkly that others I can’t spot yet:

  • For the feminist in me who is not able to stand up and honestly state her opinion in social situations
  • For the feminist in me who is not able to be charitable to women who have no patience for my way of thinking
  • For the modern person in me who constantly wonders about her worth because she does not draw a conventional salary
  • For the girl/woman in me who is able to help friends think about their bodies objectively (I think) but uses extremely hateful terms with herself (and has a continuous bad relationship with the mirror)
  • For the friend in me, who is not able to call out other friends for their obvious disconnect
  • For the writer in me, who is not able to shake off the feeling that I have been living on the surface
  • For the friend in me, who can’t believe the friends who stuck with me and wonders about those who I thought I would be stuck with

The next step perhaps is trying to reduce the distance between these two persons.

 

Is the mirror your friend?

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I recently encountered someone with an eating disorder. Her name is Anaya. One reads and hears and thinks, like most things unpalatable, that it could not happen to someone you know personally. I want to help her and I also don’t want to help her. I see behavior in her that raises so many red flags and all her friends do is shrug it over. “She has always been like that,” is the most common refrain I heard. What I was hearing was she has always been eating so little and experiencing blackouts and deleting pictures she did not like and exercising like a fiend and yet never being satisfied with how she is. In typical style, Anaya is an extremely successful businesswoman who runs her own outfit, negotiating, managing, and achieving scary-sounding targets. But her entire worth is linked to how she thinks she has to look.

Someone had once said a very important thing to me, about looks. She had said, “Janaki, it doesn’t matter how I look. It matters what I see in the reflection. I was a chubby girl who was a daughter to a very beautiful mother and for the rest of my life, I will always see a chubby girl in the mirror.”

Anaya, too, suffers from this, am sure. I do not know her well but have seen up close the effect her mother’s comments have on her. Mothers often and as a generalization, are always critical of their daughters. It is usually “to improve them” but rarely does it lead to any so-called improvement.

She hardly eats any food, pops pills which occasionally take her to the hospital, survives on caffeinated drinks and exercises like a fiend. And constantly berates herself on how she looks and yes, has been known to delete photographs from cameras that do not flatter her, according to her.

She is surrounding by people who, though never disparage how she looks but also never want to intervene and see that she gets some help. As I recount incident after incident I realise the situation in her case is so dire. She never listens or hears things that do not suit her way of thinking (who does, after all) and she perhaps has a confident shell that does not let others approach her for an intervention.

Being around her makes me feel grateful often. Grateful for the disregard my brain had for the obvious dissociation I faced all through my growing years for being fat. I am grateful I didn’t succumb to peer pressure into feeling shamed and starving myself. I have friends who did. (Maybe going to a really nondescript college helped?) I also didn’t have friends who thought it necessary to take it upon themselves to “make me thin”.

Or maybe I was just the default  ‘fat girl’ in the group. You know that every group has one? Especially one with women? This default fat girl usually has no say or no opinion worth considering and always has  dates and outings thrown her way since we know that men would never voluntarily seek out a fat girl right?

Today there are days when I suffer pangs of low self-worth or worth that are linked to an outfit not fitting me well or me not looking a certain way and then, thankfully, it passes. I have no issues looking into a mirror and even scrutinising my flaws. I know I can change what or how I look whenever I want and it will not change what is on the inside.  I will not change if more people ‘like’ or ‘approve’ of how I look.

Maybe something will change with Anaya too. She will meet someone like me who is stronger than I am today. Who will have the strength to pull her out and help her find balance. Till then, whenever I see her, I will push a plate of food toward her and keep reiterating how great she is.

What do you know, truly?

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There are some days when you avoid reading the paper thinking what is there to know? All is not well and that is enough for me to know.  Then some days, you pick up all the issues of Tehelka you have not read and decide it will give you some good fodder till you reach office in the 1.30 hours it takes you to commute.

That is when you realise. There is so much unknown. Are you better for knowing it or not? I still cannot decide. There was this story and then this story. Reading it made me want to weep. Crime, inequality and such blatant horrors that truly being an honest cop cannot be that important. One part of my head tells me, it’s UP it’s to be expected. But that is not true anymore. Mumbai cops are apparently just as cavalier. I know of an Air India pilot, beaten up in his uniform by sons of builders in Vile Parle east. He was not allowed to file an FIR till he brandished some ‘influence’ of his. This happened almost 2 years ago. Today the FIR is missing from the police station it was filed in. He is not following it up because he has old parents and of course, the policemen are encouraging him to drop the complain. This is Mumbai not UP. So truly nothing all that different.

Then you read this. Maybe these were a couple of bumper issues. Maybe this is normal in the course of things. I don’t know any more. Bureaucrats who siphon. Ministers who are corrupt. Private companies who bloat and become large Goliaths and swallow some much of public money that states need to start charging more taxes just to get the job done. You wonder about things like RTI and Lokpall bills, which are constantly trying to equal the unequal status of power and other busybodies who are forever trying to not let that happen. Diluted ambits, changed bills – all of which make a mockery of the attempt at transparency these moves are aiming to achieve.

It’s frustrating. It’s futile. It is not anymore about one bribe you give your traffic pandu for jumping  a light. It needs to be about a complete sea change in every aspect of functioning. Accountability in the system. The lack of ways to extricate yourself without any consequence. Even as I think this I read Vilasrao Deshmukh now heads MCA or Maharashtra Cricket Association and I think to myself, how much money is enough! Has he not bled other organisations dry? Why does he need more?

Then, on the next day, you come across another little piece titled ‘Bride and no prejudice‘ and you wonder if the pace of change will ever be enough for the rampant rape of India. Now wonder Ratan Tata called it a banana republic. He can’t have been that wrong!

That big, brave world

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Reading this interview made me think how sterile a rape can be in reportage. There is talk of doctors, swabs, semen, DNA and many other technical things but none of them ever talk about what it is actually is, a power trip really. You might want to read this too.. it proves, at least, to some degree that women are the worst critics for women.

Though I have to be honest. When the Shiney Ahuja news broke, I remembered thinking he may be guilty of cheating on his wife but having consensual sex with any other woman cannot be construed as rape just because he reneged on promises he made to the woman. That was my initial thought but since the blogs and media have made the issue murkier and now I do not even claim to know what may have happened exactly.

Even the Madhur Bhadarkar case was fashioned from similar circumstances. It usually pisses me off when women claim rape or any form of abuse because some promise has been reneged on and they have already dispensed with the favours, usually sex. To give Preeti credit, she had filed a cheating case on him but it seemed (through the coverage) that she was accusing him of rape. It seems to be a favourite method to claim the slighting of the Indian culture.

There doesn’t seem to be a conclusion to this in my head but  it is upsetting to see how the real issue almost always gets buried in any form of journalism today, for a better headline, it seems…

The unfairness of the advantage

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I know for most of the people in the not northern part of India, the Gujjar agitation means nothing. Just another group fighting for another cause. Especially because it will not really affect you and me, and our living. Or so we think. The current agitation is because the Rajasthan High Court has put a stay on a reservation granted to them about 3-4 years ago, as a part of caste politics. It has asked for quantifiable proof that it is a ‘backward community’. Indeed, if we are getting technical, I want to know what is a backward community and how can I become a part of it.

A few years ago when the Gujjar agitation has started and they were burning down buses in Delhi, it was affecting in my life. And, at that point, someone had taken the pains to explain to me what they were demanding. The community, based in Rajasthan, I understand was demanding a 1% blanket reservation in all jobs, college seats and wherever else reservations were used. This was over and above the already 50% of reservations we already have for all kinds of backward communities in India. That is what the court stayed.

The person explaining the fight to me also found it necessary to explain that Gujjars were a rich community, at least in the cities. A lot of the law enforcement in Delhi and UP consist of the Gujjar community. So money certainly was not a requirement. Being categorised backward was perhaps.

That got me thinking. About really affluent Dalits, who are well educated and make 6 and 7 figure salaries and whose parents have worked in cushy government jobs (maybe due to the reservation, I do not know)… do their children still need reservation? And if they are benefiting from the reservations, why aren’t the deserving Dalits, back in villages benefiting? And if these affluent city folks are successful and educated, why this crutch of a certificate?

The Gujjars you see lying across the tracks protesting the stay- are they the ones to benefit if the reservation is back on track? Or will all the cops of Delhi stand to gain? Making it only a victory in principle for people who perhaps actually need the reservation.

Isn’t that what we hoped education would do? Stop them feeling the need for an edge over the disadvantage? Give the equal platform and bring them to par? But now it seems to succeed you need to be of a backward caste. That’s an advantage the common man won’t give away for the money and success of it while the politician will not want to take away, lest he lose his vote.

And at the end of it all, two-three generations after Independence, there are still huge cities and towns of people who do not get to use the advantage they have had while the so-called meritorious or earlier know as upper caste, today look for ways to fake a ‘backward caste’ certificate.

Yes, of course, I am a Brahmin and wouldn’t be complaining about the advantage if I had it (I think). But my being a brahmin is just because my father was so why should that decide who or what I am and what opportunities I am entitled to? If I can prove my worth, I should be eligible. So what if I am Dalit or a Gujjar? You have the marks/ abilities/ qualities, you get the job, seat etc. But today good marks or skills make me eligible for half the available opportunities, all because of my surname. But I guess that is the argument that was used for reservations in the first place.