09 November, 2016

Hate thrives - Shocked and Saddened !

(Pic courtesy : thewrap.com via Google)

Today’s US elections have saddened me beyond belief.  I didn’t know nor did I realize that an election process in a part of the world that is so far away from the one I was born in, so far away from the one I now live in, would impact me to such an extent.

Truth be said, it has.

I’ve considered myself an optimist, I’ve always banked on the notion of hope,  have always invested in a belief that was born out of the confidence that the world is slowly gaining momentum towards becoming a more equitable society.  I let myself believe that feminism is a concept that is gaining ground, albeit slowly, in developing nations of the world and at a much faster pace in the so called developed nations of the world.

Equity, equality, feminism - were all concepts that had, of late, become so believable. With mobility on the rise, human beings were beginning to scale borders and settle in different parts of the world and I well and truly let myself believe that things were getting more secular.

Well !!  The country that prided itself on being the birthplace of democracy has spoken and how !  What I feel right now is a mixture of disappointment and fear.  Disappointment at people in the largest democracy in the world having succumbed to a misogynist who has furthered his agenda on the basis of fear mongering, divisiveness, racial hatred, intolerance, bigotry, arrogance and open condescension towards anyone not willing to tow his line. 

This is not just about a man winning the elections against a female rival.  He embodies everything that is going wrong with the world, stands for everything that needs to be done away with because what the world of today needs is unity while he stands for divisiveness.  What the world of today needs is equality, fairness, tolerance and Trump has proven himself to exemplify, personify, symbolize and represent exactly the opposite attributes.  It is disturbing that these emotions were what he built his campaign on but what is inherently more alarming and disconcerting is the fact that a majority of the American population believed in the same rhetoric and saw him through.

If I happen to catch Trump’s acceptance speech (I doubt I will, though), there are going to be a large number of women cheering him on, applauding the fact that he’s won the election and it is going to make me wonder why and how.  How can women support a man who’s made no efforts to correct his misogynistic attitude, one that actually flaunts his chauvinism, shames women, calls them names, thumps his chest and says he groped women and got away with it, crows to a crowd that a woman who stood up to him would not have been his first choice for 'groping' and the like.  The best bit is that he gets away with it all.

Every single vote for Trump was a vote for passive acceptance of chauvinists not being accountable for what they say or do, of male entitlement, just on the basis of gender. It was a vote for arrogance and the concept of undeserved privilege and dispensation, it was a vote for the continuance of biases that beset women just on the basis of gender.

As things stood in society of late, what we see is probably not the institutionalized sexism that one used to witness a few decades back.  There are no professions from which women are barred or not allowed to practice.  What we see in today’s world is sexism in a more subtle form.  Having someone like Trump as the President of the world’s largest democracy (it sounds like a cheap joke, truth be told) has thrown those right out of the window.  Subtleness be damned, it’s out in the open and people have embraced it with open arms.

Sexist attitudes are long gone, is what some people say.  It is something that used to belong in the previous century, said someone, the other day.  I’d just say it is going to be tough reminding oneself of that statement every single time the newly minted megalomaniac, misogynistic President of the USA walks out and the band plays ‘Hail to the Chief’.

What he has proven beyond doubt, sadly enough, is that hate and divisiveness sell.  It is a winning formula.  The American people have bought it hook, line and sinker.  I just hope the rest of the world does not have to pay for their folly.

09 June, 2016

Be a lighthouse - Stop rape culture !!

(Image courtesy : spitfiregals.wordpress.com via Google)

There is outrage again – and rightly so.  With the Stanford Rape Case out in the open, the focus, the spotlight has once again landed on the problem that is endemic, worldwide, one which is undoubtedly rampant.   Misogyny reigned supreme yet again as Brock Turner (charged with rape and sexual assault) was let off with a minor sentence. 

There are protests, there are petitions on for removing Aaron Persky from the bench.  I signed a petition myself because I do personally believe that misogynistic people like Persky have no place in the legal framework, let alone on the bench.  How can women even hope for justice to prevail with such people around ?  He was in an official position to make a statement by endorsing accountability and doing his part in stubbing misogyny.  He did exactly the opposite.

I read a letter by the rape survivor – one she read out in court.  It was horrifying, it made me sick to the stomach and mad as hell.  Yet, despite all the lady in question went through, it was she that was being questioned, it was her life that was being dissected at will by Turner’s legal representatives, it was her word that was being questioned – all the while with the perpetrator in plain view in the courtroom. 

In fact, Turner’s father is said to have gone way ahead of himself and described the rape as his son’s ’20 minutes of action’.  With that kind of attitude in his head, it is small wonder that his son thinks raping women is a done thing, is perfectly ok and that it is his god given birthright (perhaps).  These people belong to a band that considers themselves unaccountable for anything and everything they do. These people belong to a band of people that consider it their birthright to get what they want, when they want – a shameful faction of the human populace who believe they are unaccountable for their actions, who bring up their children with the idea that they too are totally unaccountable for their actions and then there are friends and neighbours who contribute to such rotten standards.  Then you have judges like Persky who let these criminals off lightly, thus granting their own passive approval to the crime committed.   I’ve often heard people say that it takes a village to raise a child.  In this case, Brock Allen Turner is a rotten apple in the basket which has been tended to, catered to, raised and now supported by a whole village that has putrid standards.
Just because he is a swimming star at Stanford does not give him the right to rape, it does not give the judge or people to justify what he did.  What  he did was wrong.  Period.  He should pay with his freedom, commensurate to what he did.  Period.

I go back to what I’d said quite some time back.  If parents don’t fulfil their responsibilities and duties in educating their children, what hope do we have for the future ? 

The one undisputable fact parents all over the world need to attempt to bear in mind is the fact that children are the future.  So, if there is no endeavor on the part of parents, to educate the future generations about issues like sexual abuse, rape, being sensitive towards the needs and feelings of others, understanding that a NO means a NO and that a NO does not mean a MAYBE or a YES, what foundations do we hope to build ?  If this does not start at the family level, how can we even begin to hope for a safer, more secure world for the future generations to grow up in ?

Whether we like it or not, we live in a society that is evolving by the minute.  The pace of change affects children even more so because they, at this age, have minds that are more gullible than ours.  We are bringing up our kids in a society in which peer pressure has more of a push now than it did when we were children.  What peers say, matters.  What peers think about them, matters to them a great deal.  We are bringing up our kids in times when information is there for the taking.  Newspapers, the internet, magazines or social media websites – are all open fields, waiting for information to be sought and gleaned.

Take movies or TV serials, for instance.   There is no denying the fact that as things stand now, girls and women are still viewed as a conquest of sorts in many movies or serials.  Falling in love or being sexually active are viewed more as a victory or a triumph, a conquest, if you may, rather than something that is born out of consent, mutual affection and desire.  There are books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” where the main protagonist in the book “agrees to take” the female protagonist’s virginity without the two of them “signing an agreement”.   Makes it sound like a favor that the male protagonist is bestowing on the female.  There are scores of youngsters who have ready access to books like these or many of the movies, where male superiority and dominance over females is clearly the underlying theme.

Every single time a child picks up a newspaper or a magazine that asks “what was the women doing out so late at night ?” “Was she drunk ?” “Was she improperly clothed ?” “Did she have a lot of boyfriends ?”  “Was she already sexually active ?” – thought processes are unconsciously being implanted in those susceptible minds.  Their minds are automatically being driven towards associating these notions with the idea that if these conditions were present then it was the woman that was asking for it, that it was the woman that was to blame.  We, as adults, are comprehensive enough to realize that no woman ever asks to be sexually assaulted or raped.  No woman ever asks to be violated.  How about the younger generation ?  Who’s going to teach them to read between the lines here and get the point across that if it has happened, it is not the woman who is the instigator, as the media and people rather conveniently seem to deem and assume.

Society gives boys a lot many more concessions than it does the girls.  Things like sensitivity and empathy are not a “requirement” in a boy’s psyche, simply because they are males.  Boys need to be educated, they have to be taught about consent, they have to be taught about respecting others’ feelings and sentiments, they have to be educated about the evils of peer pressure.  They have to be taught that there are lines which are not meant to be crossed.  I do know, as my own son grows up, that this is easier said than done.  When those teen hormones are raging through them, it takes very little to drown out the parents’ voices and replace them with those of other teens who are equally testosterone driven.  But that is no excuse for not trying to educate them in the first place. 

It is a parental responsibility and one that needs to be taken just as seriously as we take their education and the many other aspects of their lives that we deem important.  Apparently, Turner’s parents thought otherwise, what with his father still going around making absolutely crass statements.  If there’s anyone out there who goes around giving some excuse for his behavior as lame as ‘boys will be boys’, I have just this to say.  Boys who learn to respect consent are boys, Brook Allen Turner just had his credentials changed – He is a rapist !!

I loved what the survivor said at the end of her letter.  While I am terribly terrible sorry for the ordeal she went through, a part of me is proud of her for having stood up in a courtroom full of people who were trying and doing their level best to malign her, in a courtroom with her rapist in it, in a courtroom with a misogynistic judge presiding – she stood and she said what she had to say.  I have just one word for her. 


Towards the end of her letter, the survivor quotes Anne Lamott when she says
Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” 

Yes, lighthouses shine.  They guide.  They show the path towards avoiding danger.  They ‘prevent’ disasters. 

For every parent all over the world – Be the lighthouse !

We need to be a lighthouse in standing up for right and wrong, even when it involves our own kids.  More importantly, we need to be a lighthouse in guiding our kids as they grow, teaching them the value and importance of consent and more importantly, to respect a ‘NO’.  We need to be a lighthouse in teaching them that a NO means a NO and not a MAYBE or a YES.

We, as parents, have a parental responsibility in believing and carrying forward on the premise that we need to actively do our bit in raising our children to be more responsible citizens and more importantly, more caring and empathetic human beings.  We, as a collective, as parents, need to make serious changes in the manner in which we talk to and convey to our children the importance of sex, consent, empathy and respect and how they are inextricably interlinked.

Be a lighthouse.  Stop the spread of rape culture.

26 May, 2016

Why are Bollywood actresses so scared of the F-word ?

(Image sourced via Google)

Lisa Haydon is the latest of Bollywood actresses to join the bandwagon that says ‘I’m not feminist’.  Vidya Balan has said it too, so has Madhuri Dixit and many others.  Leads me to wonder why Bollywood actresses are so scared of the F-word ! 

I do accept the fact that people could have different opinions on just about any subject.  The same applies to feminism.  If women were to just say ‘I’m not feminist’, now that’s absolutely fine.  The grouch I have with public figures like Lisa Haydon is when they make statements like ‘Feminism is just an overused term and people make noise about it for no reason’ or ‘I don’t want to be a man’ and what have you.

Growing up in a patriarchal society that is India (and many other parts of the world too), girls, right from a young age are taught to conform and obey, no questions asked.  As a child, I came in for a lot of flak from the elders in the family for playing cricket with the boys.  Apparently, it was something “girls simply would not and should not do”.  I didn’t get the logic behind that statement then and I don’t get it now.  If that makes me a feminist, so be it.  And no, it does not make me a man.

Whatever anyone might say about the Indian society having changed its outlook, its mindset towards gender inequality, sad fact is that things remain pretty much the same.  Attitudes are the same, mind-sets, outlooks and approaches pretty much remain similar.

Women should not have to protest, should not have to hold up banners, should not have to walk around naked holding placards, should not have to burn bras to be heard and taken notice of.  When a woman speaks, it is as much her right to do so as it is any man’s out there and when she does speak, giving her an ear is something that needs to come naturally to the public just as they would, if it was a man speaking.  That is what feminism is about.  Feminism does not ask women to holler and for men to be muzzled.  Equality – that’s what it asks for.

Being a woman has never been easy anywhere in the world, especially so in patriarchal societies like India.  Come to think of it, a woman is pretty much doomed the day those XX chromosomes decide to hang out together.  That is essentially when the struggle begins – a struggle for life, a struggle for existence, a struggle for self-identity, a struggle to have her voice heard, a struggle to have her opinions taken seriously.  For a woman, life gets down to being a struggle to simply survive with her senses intact, for, she comes into a world, a society which is biased and inclined towards heeding the XY chromosomes over the XXs. 

Despite rampant cries for change, the cultural identity of an Indian woman is still looked upon, first and foremost, as being a wife, a mother.  The traditional female identity in India still pretty much places a woman in a very restrictive environment.  Education too, even now, is seen by society, not as much as a tool towards an independent woman but more as a means to improve their chances of finding a husband of a higher social status.
Irrespective of life in a village or a city, women are still expected to adhere to traditional expectations.  In many families, it is still considered necessary for a woman to touch her husband’s feet as a mark of respect, she is still expected to wear on herself, accessories that “mark” her as a married woman – her mangalsutra, her sindoor, her toerings.  Does society show a shift towards expecting something on similar lines from men, now that we call ourselves an advancing society?  Sadly, the answer still remains in the negative. 

Religion is still used to reinforce cultural stereotypes of feminity.  Sita is still embodied as the perfect Indian wife who sacrifices just about anything and everything at the drop of a hat to follow her husband and does what is asked of her – no questions asked.  Patriarchy demanded that Sita walk through fire because her husband heeded the words of a washerman.  Feminism would demand the same from him, given that he was alone all the time Sita was a prisoner in Lanka or it wouldn't demand it from either of them.  

Equality – that’s what feminism is about.

The media is often found saying that sexism is on the decrease now as compared to what it was a few decades back.  There are countless articles which say the lines between male dominance and female submissiveness has blurred and that there definitely is a grey area which is growing.  Well, as things stand in society today, what we see is probably not the institutionalized sexism that one used to witness a few decades back.  There are no professions from which women are barred or not allowed to practice.  What we see in today’s world is sexism in a more subtle form.  Every single time we let sexism raise its ugly head, feminism takes a beating. 

Sexism in the modern society rears its head every single time a female faces catcalls and sexist comments as she walks down a road.  It rears its head time and again when male colleagues attribute just about anything and everything about you to it being “that time of the month”.  It rears its head every single time men deem it fit to make jokes about women not being able to do things which society has always considered “macho”, driving for instance.  It rears its head every single time the so-called “educated” men don’t think twice about making statements like “a woman’s place is in the kitchen, making rotis and cooking for her family”.

Sexist attitudes are long gone, is what some people say.  It is something that used to belong in the previous century, said someone, the other day.
Unfortunately, that is not quite the case.  Not quite.  It is still very much out there.  We still live in a society which defines woman-ness or feminity in terms of actions or dress codes.  We still live in a society that permits and makes sanctions for gender based jokes in workplaces or schools, we still live in a society which ruled some time back that family owned businesses do not have to cover contraception in their workers’ health insurance.  We still live in a society where male members in the Senate and the Supreme Court get to decide on whether women should have control over their own bodies.

So when public figures like Bollywood actresses go out on a limb to avoid being tagged with the ‘F-word’, when they feel the need to speak out and make it clear that they are not feminist, they just need to think very carefully.  You have the choice to wear what you like, you would like to have control over decisions about yourself and your bodies, you would like to have the freedom to use birth control and decide when you bear children and give birth, you would like to have the freedom to decide whether or not you want an abortion, you would like to have the freedom to decide whether you want to marry or not.  If all of the above are true, truth be said, these ladies totally believe in feminist ideals – they just don’t want to be tagged with the feminist label. 

Feminism is not about women wanting to be men.  Feminism is not about not wanting a husband or raising a family.  Feminism is not about not being able to show tenderness towards humanity in general.  Feminism is not about going around flaunting a bra strap.  Feminism is not about exposing breasts and nipples and nudity.  Feminism is not about not taking care of your kids or not wanting to take care of your kids.  Feminism is not the belief that one gender is more powerful than the other. 

Feminism is about moving towards a society which does not rebuke men for showing vulnerability just as it does not chasten women for wanting to be independent. 

Simply put, feminism is nothing but a movement towards wanting an equal society – a society where man, woman, transgender, LGBT – all have an equal footing in society and all of whom can express their opinions in the secure knowledge that their voices will be heard.  Feminism is a movement towards a society where the genitals one has, doesn’t decide how much power an individual has or does not have, in society.  Feminism is a movement towards a society that does not discriminate, castigate or penalize people for what they are.

Like Kate Nash said "Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a bitch or a dyke. It means you believe in equality.”

28 March, 2016

God's Letter (a translation)

The below post is a translation of a blog post by veteran actor, Mohanlal.  The link to the original blog post in Malayalam, is posted at the bottom of this page.

(Image credit : desipainters.com via Google)

'God’s Letter' by Mohanlal

One of my friends recommended that I read a book by Paul Kalanithi  - a book named “When breath becomes air”.
Paul Kalanithi, an Indian by origin, was a famous neurosurgeon in America.  He studied literature, philosophy and specialized in neurosurgery, all at the same time.  He had been diagnosed with cancer of the respiratory tract.  The above book, about life, was written by him when he realized that he had but a very short time left in this beautiful universe. 

This book, which has a lot of thought provoking insights on how one can live one’s life to the optimum, is indeed a heart wrenching read. 

Paul Kalanithi passed away last March.  He was 37 years old.

It was when I read this book that I became very acutely conscious of human mortality and the value of time.  Realization dawned that God has given us very little time on Earth to accomplish what we need to.  This reality, once the penny drops, brings with it a feeling of deep sadness and humility.

As I normally do under such circumstances, I wrote a letter to God.  As usual, I got a prompt response.  I am presenting below, the response I received from God.

Dear Lalu,

I received your letter.  Since I am not as busy as you are, I decided to send you a prompt reply.

This time, you wrote to me, having read a book by someone who had death staring him in the face.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  One thinks of other human beings and God only when one faces death or when one contemplates the reality of death.  I have no complaints about that because is it not me who knows your behavior better than anyone else ??

This time around, your concerns and misgivings are about the limited time that I have granted you on this planet.  Quite a bit of your concerns are right but most of them are wrong.  As per my plan, the average time span I’ve allocated for you to spend on Earth is about 70-80 years.  Some people return early but those are rare instances.  Why that is so, I shall elaborate upon later.

Every human being is granted just 24 hours in a day.  No one gets even a second extra.  How those 24 hours are utilized by each one of you is not the same, they are different.  How many humans on Earth are aware of the fact that each one of you is like a timepiece which can stop at any time or that each one of you is a candle that be extinguished at any time?  How many of you use this time span that I have allotted each one of you uniformly, in pursuit of good deeds? 

People are opinionated, busy criticizing each other, interfering in other people’s lives, fighting among themselves on the basis of caste, creed, race, religion, color, nationality – all of which are self-created.  People are busy suing each other, exposing others’ faults / shortcomings, bringing to light others’ skeletons hidden deep in their closets and wasting their lives in jail.  How much time do human beings spend on such frivolous, unwanted, unproductive thoughts? 

The first time we met each other was in a train compartment, a train being pulled by a steam engine.  I still travel in trains pulled by steam engines but at least in Kerala I know that you, Lalu, cannot do that anymore.  You should have thought about that before becoming a film star.  Recently, I took a long ride through your country, on a train drawn by a steam engine.  During that journey which felt never ending, not one person even bothered to come over and talk to me.  Everybody was just busy with their cell phones, staring at the screens and tapping away at the keyboards.  When I asked someone what he was doing, he brushed me off saying he was ‘busy on Whatsapp and Facebook’.  I am sure you use these apps too. 

In the past, on long train journeys, we used to see people sitting and reading books, chatting with each other, sharing jokes, interacting with each other.  Nowadays, everybody just stares at/interacts with their phones on Whatsapp / Facebook etc.  ‘What’s so special about Whatsapp and Facebook’?  I asked the youngster.  He puffed his chest in pride and said ‘On this, you can write or say anything about anybody, nobody can stop you.  You can start movements / revolutions.’  When I asked him why he needed to start movements and revolutions, he smiled and replied ‘If anybody says anything against our God, our religion or about our political affiliation, we can use this medium to respond.  Just one post and there will be plenty of people to fight, to abuse and make life miserable for the targeted individuals / groups’.  Having said this, he turned his attention back to his phone.

Having spent much of your time abusing others and getting into fights on social media, is it fair then that when your time comes, you complain to me that you did not have enough time in this world?  

There’s one more matter.  Humans spend a lot of time on me, praising me, building places of worship that are hot and which suffocate me.  Humans fight with anyone and everyone who has anything bad to say about me and kill people in my name.  Humans use different names for me, they form associations in my name and collect funds.  Is this humankind’s idea of spending time in my name?  The way humans behave, one gets the feeling that God cannot survive without humankind.  Who has bestowed humans with the power to determine and conclude that God will cease to exist, as a result of the actions and words of some among them?  This is something I don’t understand.   One thing I’m sure of is that I have not handed down that responsibility to anyone. 

People see their own reflection in me.  They tend to perceive me as an entity that loses its temper when there is a difference of opinion, an entity that lacks a sense of humor, an entity that is portrayed as an egotistic idiot.  Humans then fight over all this?!  Imagine the amount of time that is wasted on such vain thoughts and actions!!  Am I responsible for these?!

To help you understand better, I will list out a few names.  Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, M.T.Vasudevan Nair, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Amartya Sen, Mammooty, Yesudas, Lata Mangeshkar, Maradona, Sachin Tendulkar, Ilayaraja, A.R.Rahman and many more.  I gave all these people too, just twenty four hours in a day.  I gave the same amount of time too, to thieves, robbers, murderers whiling away their time now in jail.  It is not a question of how much time I grant people.  What is more important is how they use and utilize that time so given.

People who have accomplished big things in life are the people who have been conscious of time.  These are the people who, without wasting a moment, made the best use of time and accomplished great things, did good deeds and scaled great heights. Like I said before, people who are not conscious of time waste their lives and at the end of it all, complain that they were not given enough time on this planet.

Dear Lalu, life is nothing but an enchanting illusion – a vision you see when you are sitting, enjoying the shade of a majestic tree.  Understanding that is the greatest essence of life.  Only then will one understand how priceless and invaluable it is.  Once you realize this, you will not waste your time on trivial pursuits.  You will be determined to ensure that your actions serve a better purpose.  Thus, every moment will result in contentment. 

Just understand this in living your life.  Nobody has any right to physically or psychologically trouble others.  Please tell people not to get involved in matters related to my well being. 

Even if you tell someone not too smart that I, who am responsible for the entire Universe, cannot even take care of my own issues, you will be laughed at.  So, leave me alone, stop hateful thoughts and focus on making your life worthwhile and good.

Yours lovingly,


There are some other matters but I will mention those some other time.

The words at the end of the letter were smudged. I am sure they were smudged because of the tears he shed. Why he was crying, I do not know.  I’m afraid I cannot guess. Were they tears of sorrow, or rage, I know not.  I can’t guess that either.    
Translation credit : Venkitaraman Krishnan

The original blog post in Malayalam can be found here.     

(The above blog post has been translated with the best of intentions.  Our sincere apologies for any error of omission or commission in the process of translation.)