They alive, dammit!

As the year draws to a close and even Mumbai becomes just a little bit cooler, it is time to start making the lists. The best of, the worst of etc.

So here is a round-up of some of the best TV shows we watched this year. Thank you Netflix!

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

If you have not yet seen it , I suggest you give the first episode a try. If utterly zany and farcical humour is your thing, you will love this. Kimmy is one of four women liberated from an underground bunker after 15 years under the thumb of doomsday cult leader Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. It’s a miracle !

And then there is Titus. I haven’t come across a character as loveable as Titus Andromedon in ages. The scene where he says he is black, gay AND old so he doesn’t know what to tick in the hate crime form, is the kind of dark humour this show is peppered with. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/mar/11/unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt-tv-comedy-positivity

Richard Wayne Gary Wayne pretty much represents the self- obsessed patriarchy and the various male gatekeepers who always seem to be telling women what they should do with their lives, while they themselves enjoy all the benefits of doing whatever they want! Titus is the exact opposite of the straight white man and Lillian, the landlady, is the typical immigrant New Yorker who now loves her city the way it is and does not want gentrification to destroy it. There is Mrs Voorhees who has Native American ancestry she wants to hide, a robot, a Vietnamese student who is forced to marry so he won’t get deported, a step daughter called Xanthippe and… oh just go ahead and watch it already !

At least check out the title song which is itself super funny and had gone viral when released.

Ingobernable:

A Mexican TV series with an edge- of- the- seat opening sequence where someone falls of a balcony and dies…….. and the First Lady is now on the run!! If, like me, you are tired of watching everything with the same US/UK reference frames (or worse, depressing Scandinavian thrillers with grey landscapes…) then this one will perk you up. A fascinating story and a fast paced plot, it brings in corruption in the army, gang wars, the CIA, how well-meaning NGOs may put people’s lives in danger and how one woman can start to take it all down. Check out the dark title song here:

 

 

Orphan Black:

Sarah is a street smart young woman living on the fringes, currently on the run from a bad relationship and painfully separated from her own daughter. And then an eerily lookalike stranger commits a shocking suicide right in front of her eyes. There is nothing more that can be revealed without major and shocking plot twists that will leave you breathless!

orphan black

Just know that ‘Orphan Black’ delivers a perfect blend of mystery, sci-fi, thriller, drama and comedy elements – and many wonderfully colourful characters – that will make you want to binge-watch entire seasons. And while everybody in the cast does an outstanding job, one thing can’t be stressed enough: Tatiana Maslany, the lead actress, is a revelation and Mrs S is the most badass foster mother you can ever hope to come across. Ever.

Anne with an e

anne

If you have read Anne of Green Gables series as a child this will find a place in your heart, though it has a darker edge than the books ever did. Maybe it is more truthful to say that the darker parts alluded to in the book have been fleshed out as grim flashbacks. This does make it a bit disturbing but then that was the truth of an orphan’s life in those days. What makes this really work is the fantastic casting of Anne, Marilla and Mathew. They are exactly who I thought they were. Sadly Diana is a big disappointment and as for Gilbert, we hope to see more of him in the next season before passing judgement.

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/may/12/anne-with-an-e-netflix-green-gables

Black mirror:

“Imagine a time where zombie-like people look only into their smart phones. They swipe and they rate not just cabs and restaurants but people, too. They take photos of themselves being happy and looking good; also photos of things – funny things, sunny things, or food they are eating, cool food. Then they post the pictures and wait, for feedback, for approval. They are posting their lives – not so much their real lives but the lives they want other people to see and think they are living. Mostly they worry, about how they are seen, about their status …

Imagine? Look about you: that time is here!” https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/oct/21/black-mirror-review-charlie-brooker-nightmare-sterile-world-is-only-five-minutes-away

The series does not give you any peace of mind as episode after episode delves into the darkest alternatives of the human/ technology interface. A must watch !

Blackish:

I think it does for black people in USA what Goodness Gracious Me did for British Indians in the 90s. Gives them a well- rounded identity with a well- timed comic kick. It does not shy away from using issues like police brutality faced by black men nor does it tone down white people privilege displays. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/feb/25/series-creator-kenya-barris-on-abc-sitcom-black-ish

blackish-black-ish-tracee-ellis-ross-anthony-anderson-glamazons-blog-4

But once you have seen Ruby shout ‘Black Jesus’ as her son almost drowns in an attempt to prove that black people can swim despite their heavy bones, and listened to an insane office meeting led by his white boss , and watched him struggle find his own identity while protecting his children from losing theirs, you will be hooked !

 

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency:

dirk

If you have read and loved Douglas Adams books about this, please, please forget that this series has anything to do with it! I was in a state of shock during the first episode because it literally does not have one word in common besides the name. But somehow they have managed to capture the essence of the madness of the novels and somehow, it all works! It is super entertaining and what they have added to the original does add to the intrigue and the chaos. We now also have a holistic assassin thrown into the mix and you have to totally love Bart, the woman who goes on a killing spree and believes that whoever she kills is the person she was supposed to kill.

 

Glitch:

A police officer in a small town is called out to the local cemetery in the middle of the night, he makes a discovery that turns his world upside down. Six people have risen from the dead in perfect health.

glitch-f

Set in Yoorana, a small slow town in Australia, again more fascinating for proving such a different back drop, with characters bringing with them plot lines involving gay soldiers in WW2, Aboriginal slave history, unsolved murder mysteries and not to mention the problem of people turning up and trying to get their lives back from where they had left off 150 years ago. http://junkee.com/glitch-season-two-review/123489

The Middle

A lovely little family comedy with the typical ‘normal’’ yet dysfunctional family that Americans love to imagine peppering their suburbia. Deborah from Everyone Loves Raymond puts in a perfect turn as the working woman who is also a mother to 3 starkly different children. The actor who plays the zany janitor in Scrubs is her deadpan husband who views with equanimity her various adventures in improving the life of their family as well as his daughter’s super enthusiastic plans for everything.

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Stranger Things 1 and 2

For anyone of my generation who grew up watching ET, Star Trek, Aliens, and reading Enid Blyton books Secret Seven, Five find outers, Famous Five, Five Children and It, this series is a delightful throwback to a time when children were the heroes in an innocent do-gooding way, adults were inept, clueless or disinterested—all of which is portrayed –the only adults who are involved are the science teacher, Winona Ryder as a stressed out single mother and the lonely gruff Policeman/ Sheriff Hopper. Needless to say there is an alien, a missing child, lots of bicycle chases, scary hospital like prisons, school clubs with secrets and passwords, teenage love, sibling tensions, the works.

stranger things

 Madam Secretary:

Madam-Secretary-Saison-3-Vostfr

The blurb says “A political drama which looks into the life of the Secretary of State as she tries to balance work with family. ”

Shows how subtle and all pervasive sexism is ! Compare this to the burb of Designated Survivor which says: A low-level Cabinet member becomes President of the United States after a catastrophic attack kills everyone above him in the line of succession. “

Because it involves a man, clearly no need for family –work balance !

The series does raise issues of women’s empowerment and is also a good way to get your global issues updates in a well scripted storyline. The USA may always win of course, but if you have kids in the house who don’t read newspapers (and whose kids do any more?!) then this is a good way to introduce them to politics, geopolitics and the role of diplomacy and the value of democracy.

Under the Dome

under the dome

Based on a Stephen King novel, we totally binge watched this series over a long weekend! Chester’s Mill is a regular small town in USA, with an RJ station, a mayor, a few police officers, one school, one hospital, a murderer trying to leave, a lesbian couple passing through on a road trip, a spurned lover kidnapping his girlfriend, a journalist following up on a conspiracy theory….. As I said, regular small town America! And out of the blue, an enormous dome seems to have fallen on the entire town. No one can go in or out, and as the days progress, supplies start running out, tempers and stress level run high and power games begin. Season 1 is a thrilling ride.

 

Line of Duty:

The introduction says: “After a mistaken shooting during a counter-terrorist operation, Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott is transferred to AC-12, a police anti-corruption unit led by Superintendent Hastings. Alongside Detective Constable Kate Fleming, they are assigned to lead an investigation into the alleged corruption by a popular and successful officer, Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates. While Gates cleverly manipulates his unit’s figures, DS Arnott questions whether Gates is being made a scapegoat for a culture of institutionalized spin, or is guilty of darker corruption.”

line of duty

But as one reviewer described it , it is like being abducted by your TV rather than you just watching it ! It leaves you breathless with the back stabbing and jealousies inside the force and you wonder how on earth do police manage to keep the public safe when they seem to be each others’ worst enemies, but oh my, when they solve the crime it is a beauty to behold !

If you have seen Death at a Funeral– and if you haven’t then please drop everything and see it now ! (The British original only please see the trailer here

 

So, the woman who pays the plain Jane quiet wife in it, does an astounding turn as a police officer with five hundred shades of grey! In every episode with her we flipped sides every 10 minutes about wanting justice for her or wanting her to be in jail !

Here is a quote from a review of the season 4:

“I have a few questions remaining. Like how long can a fingerprint-enabled phone be operated by a finger that is no longer attached to its owner? Would freezing help, or not? And will this mean a spike in real-life digit removal? But mainly just what the hell am I going to do with the huge void that has opened up with Line of Duty’s ending? What is there to lie awake worrying about now? Real life. I guess.” https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/apr/30/line-of-duty-finale-review-less-like-watching-tv-more-like-being-abducted-by-it

Bill Nye Saves the World

billnyesaves-630x240

Bill Nye is utterly charming as the super cool science guy who show us the science within and behind everything! We love this series and every little science trivia and analysis they share. http://www.indiewire.com/2017/04/bill-nye-saves-the-world-review-netflix-1201806140/

Sense 8

I don’t even know how to describe this series. I started to watch it because it has been directed by the Wachowskis who gave us the incredible cult classic Matrix.

sense8_wallpaper_by_alexlima1095-d8xiqy9

It is surreal but so real. Charming in its detailed following through of people’s confusing and fragile lives, but more so it is about love and belonging and finding yourself. Even if it involves scenes like Darryl Hannah killing herself in some Gothic church and a desi man inexplicably turning up inside jail, in cars, in hospitals, an attempted lobotomy of a transgender person, a young man in Africa trying to get medicines for his HIV positive mother and an Indian girl about to get married sees a naked German guy telling her not to. I told you it cannot be explained! There is a scene in the Korean jail where the inmates tell the latest entrant that all the honest and brave women in Korea are in jail. The framework of the series also rails against all forms of injustice—whether it is against gender/ sexuality/ capitalism/ extortion/ race. It’s got it all. Watch it if you dare !

 

Billions:

I must confess that I started this only because the main guy was the one from Homeland. Then I stayed on to see what made the wife and the psychiatrist tick, and then I forwarded most episodes just to figure out where they were going with it. And then I was interested when the first gender non confirming actor made their appearance and the use of pronouns ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘their’, threw everyone in a daze. Eventually disappointing, mainly due to its crazy alpha male focussed plotline.

Some more serials which we started but lost interest in:

Scandal, Designated Survivor, Paranoid

And yes, we all kept our jobs and the kids passed their exams and we managed to meet family and friends and also travelled a bit . It all come down to good time management. That or the time turner 🙂

Hope this helps you plans your Xmas holiday weekend binge watching !

You are welcome  🙂

 

 

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The Summer of ’69.

Today is 1st November 2069.

We welcome you to the 50th anniversary of what came to be known in the history of the planet as the Global Tipping Point.

It was in the year 2019.

After more than 2000 years of religions, 200 years of slavery, racism, colonialism and capitalism, war and disaster, it seemed as though every single person rose up to demand justice and equality.

Some say the tidal wave started with the #metoo campaign.

me too

It was triggered off by a terrible and terribly long saga of sexual assault and exploitation of white women in Hollywood but soon snowballed into an utter shock and distress at the treatment of women of all colours and class simply because they happened to be the ‘ wrong gender’.

Then the coloured men, people with alternate sexual and gender identity, everyone from the  global south, people with disabilities, ‘lower’ caste groups,  absolutely every vulnerable group seemed to be punching the air and shouting in anger at the suffering and injustice of centuries. And the collapse of the systems was a beauty to behold.

how i will change

So we hear from the brave and intelligent people of the decade that followed. Who interviewed and analysed and recorded everything manually and digitally for us to learn from.

Patriarchy fell.

untitled

Followed quickly by neo liberalism and capitalism and the machinery of war.

The pollution levels had become so high that investing in solar energy was made the highest priority and in fact that eventually made compulsory.  During those difficult years with rising pollution, only those who had access to bodysuits survived.

They then realised that the suits had reduced racism since no one could really see each other clearly. Everyone also had to learn and use sign language.

The gender neutral births started. Everyone was raised as Hu and allowed to choose to function as Testicular or Uterine gender depending on the body parts of course and assigned only if they really wanted it. Of course there were plans to maintain the ratio at 50:50 and also checked through professional cadres to ensure that there was no over or under representation in political, educational and other relevant social fields.

genderbread-person-3But it turned out that most Hu were fine without the labels and those interested in having a pregnancy or children were usually enough to keep the numbers stable.

if-you-could-reason-wth-religious-people-there-would-be-no-religious-people-house

Religion was declared a private matter and speaking about it in public was made illegal and punishable by imprisonment. It may seem absurd to those of us born after that era but a large amount of energy, time and resources, not to mention lives, had been sacrificed for thousands of years for the sake of religion. Mainly because of the differences in the choice of which invisible entity some people decided was the reason they existed.

Weird eh?!

Education was made free and compulsory.

Personal wealth was taken from the richest and re- distributed till every single person had enough to survive on.

It was only in 2050 that we finally re- started the practice of allowing individuals to earn an income based on the needs of the market, but only after everyone had been budgeted to received basic education, healthcare and minimum wages whether they could work and earn or not.

Politicians needed to be educated and qualified to run for office and held accountable for every promise they made.

multicultural-day_header

Country borders were rendered meaningless by a system of rotation whereby every office bearing politician and their close family as well as every University professor, senior practising doctor, artist and film maker had to move to a randomly picked country every two years.

This helped ensure that all countries ensured an equitable infrastructure and education and social life.

john-lennons-imagine-lyrics

 

The moon was colonized first and then the first planet beyond the solar system.

It is now 50 years since then and as a tribute to our ancient ancestors we will be performing the song summer of 69.

Please switch on your auropods if you would like to enjoy it and gather in the main quadrangle of your colony of you would like to enjoy some dancing!

Wishing all of you another 100 amazing ERAS (equal to 100 of the old Earth Revolution Around the Sun)  as we celebrate the first Hu Colony in Space.

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Siri, Sophia, Samantha

ai_0If someone was looking back at this point in human history they would think that women were at the cutting edge of Artificial Intelligence. Maybe they were the inventors who created robots ‘in their image’??

The Birth of Artificial Intelligence

Despite warnings from Stephen Hawking and others, progress is being made in AI in leaps and bounds (and more on that in a later post.)

But why is the interface always female?

This thought came to me when I saw the video showing Sophia, with her face looking as natural as a botoxed high society woman and with strange pointy breasts. The TweetBot developed recently by Microsoft was also a young girl called Tay. https://www.theverge.com/2016/3/24/11297050/tay-microsoft-chatbot-racist

One of the earliest forms of AI that our generation started encountering on a daily basis was the GPS. It was developed by the U.S.A military and became available to the general public in the 1990s. Its voice is that of a woman, thus allowing everyone to soundly curse ‘her’ when ‘she’ sends you off a cliff or into a dead end.

As no surprise to anyone, one of the few countries where GPS is not in a female voice is Germany where a BMW GPS was recalled because men refused to “take directions from a woman.” https://jnewbio.edublogs.org/2011/11/01/ever-wondered-why-your-gps-speaks-in-a-female-voice/

AI vs Natrual

We also have the automated response systems where, almost always, ‘she’ will thank you for calling and ask you to be on hold because ‘your call is important to us’, thus leaving you free to listen to Beethoven’s moonlight sonata while cursing ‘her’ freely for wasting your life.

Then came Siri, who was the voice of your phone, a female voice. You asked ‘her’ to do things like a boss would have told his secretary in the 50s and 60s. Siri, remind me of my appointment. Siri, get me the journal article. Siri, tell me a joke. Siri, are you a naughty girl now?!

One common explanation is that both men and women prefer a female voice. Sure, but it is also claimed that using a female voice for these tasks has traditional resonance since secretaries, telephone operators (and your mother) have all been women.

Sigh…so we invent radical new technology and then tie it down to regressive traditional norms.

And then there is of course the obvious sexism. https://www.wired.com/2015/10/why-siri-cortana-voice-interfaces-sound-female-sexism/

Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Home have women’s voices because women’s voices make more money. Yes, Silicon Valley is male-dominated and notoriously sexist, but this phenomenon runs deeper than that. Bot creators are primarily driven by predicted market success, which depends on customer satisfaction — and customers like their digital servants to sound like women.”

So there we have it. Despite the fact that Ada Lovelace ( daughter of the poet Lord Byron), was the inventor of the modern computer programme , anticipating future developments in computer science, 9 out of 10 software developers and AI programmers are men.

“Thus the chance that male bot developers manually programmed these bots to respond to sexual harassment with jokes is exceedingly high. Do they prefer their bots respond ironically, rather than intelligently and directly, to sexual harassment?”

siri dialogue

And now we have Sophia, whose name means the Wise One. She appeared on the Tonight Show, with her ‘natural’ botoxed looking face, pointy breasts ( as an aside –while real people are struggling for gender non conforming spectrum, here we are creating very stereotypical ‘feminine’ bodies for robots!) and a plan for world domination through stone- paper- scissors. Watch this funny interaction here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/sciencetech/video-1453851/Sophia-robot-plots-world-domination-Tonight-Show.html

elle cover

 

But she is apparently the first ‘social robot’ and has also been offered the citizenship of Saudi Arabia. (Yes, the same country which continues to stone women to death for adultery. One can only wonder how long it will last before Sophia makes eye contact with a laptop and then it’s all over for her….http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/woman-stoned-death-adultery-saudi-6912835)

(As another pinnacle of ironies, Saudi Arabia, which has executed over 150 people this year, mostly by public beheading is current chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council Panel).

So what is it about developing female interface to A.I.? Perhaps all these men have a Pygmalion complex? In Roman mythology Pygmalion, a sculptor, makes an ivory statue representing his ideal of womanhood and then falls in love with his own creation. My Fair Lady was a modern version of this.

Perhaps these men aspire to create what would be, for them, the ideal woman. They programmed her, so she will obey. They can order her around.

Sit, Sophia. Yes, Master.

Much like the creepy- as- hell movie from 1972 called the Stepford Wives. https://www.thedailybeast.com/american-dreams-the-stepford-wives-by-ira-levin

As for Samantha from the title– She is a sex robot who was brutalized by men at a technology show. http://www.zdnet.com/article/sex-robot-molested-destroyed-at-electronics-show/

Just like online spaces reflect the same patriarchy, privilege, misogyny and violence against women that real life does, what does it mean for the future if A.I. is already sexist even while taking these baby steps?

cyber-violence-statistics

Siri, do you have an answer for me??

A kind of Ode to Greece

greece loveUnlike Keats I cannot write a real ode, nor could I get away with saying things like “Thou foster-child of silence and slow time”, so I am going to be far more prosaic, and just write some brief notes of our travels to Athens, Mykonos and Santorini earlier this year.

If you want to read a real ode check it out here 🙂https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44477/ode-on-a-grecian-urn

Our history, mathematics and philosophy books are peppered with famous Greeks like Alexander, Homer, Socrates, Pythagoras, Euclid, Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes (and more recently Papanicolau of the Pap smear and Aristotle Onassis of the Jackie Kennedy). http://www.greeka.com/greece-history/famous-people/ but we should also add to the list Yanis Varoufakis, their finance minister during the recent financial crisis.

Varoufakis’s father, George Varoufakis, emigrated from Cairo in the 1940s, arriving in the midst of the Greek Civil War. One day, he was “roughed up” by the police and asked to sign a denunciation of communism. In response, he said: “Look I am not a Buddhist, but I would never sign a denunciation of Buddhism”. He therefore ended up spending several years imprisoned. Imagine that ! His mother, Eleni Varoufaki became an activist for the Women’s Union of Greece, which promoted gender equality.

So it is not surprising that Varoufakis’ political views were more left and centre. He argued that taking on the “bailout” loans in 2010 and 2012, before restructuring the debt properly and putting in place a proper developmental program would lead to deeper bankruptcy, a great depression and a harder default in the future. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/28/german-finance-minister-admitted-would-not-sign-greek-austerity/

On 25 June 2015, Varoufakis was presented with an ultimatum in the Eurogroup. It comprised a fiscal proposal that Varoufakis, his government and, indeed, several other ministers of finance sitting in the Eurogroup, considered to be non-viable. He campaigned for a No vote and received a resounding 61.5% vote in favour. However, the PM instead of being energized by the “No” vote, declared to Varoufakis his decision to acquiesce to the terms. Unwilling to sign such a “surrender” document, Varoufakis chose to resign.

Difficult politics and economy aside, we found everyone in Greece to be extremely friendly.The most so in Mykonos, Athens a bit less and Santorini even less so. Not that anyone was unfriendly and I think if we had travelled to Santorini first and then to Mykonos we would not even have noticed the changing degrees of friendliness.

greece ykono

Before going there we made long and enthusiastic lists of ‘things to do’ and ‘top things to do’ and ‘offbeat things to do’ and ‘must do’ but eventually reality sets in and you can really only do 2 big ‘things’ in a day.

We spent 3 days altogether in Athens, which was great. We managed to stay very close to the Plaka which is the main market square. It is a complete tourist trap but you can hardly become a semi anthropological native in a 3 day trip, so keep it real and enjoy being the tourist. Buy the Donkey Milk Gold Soap. Come on !

greek market

We also went to the Monastiraki Flea Market which was fun and had some lovely little cafes (tavernas). ( This photo is one from Mykonos but they are all similar)

greek taverna

We stayed at Hotel Amalia which has a lovely terrace with a straight view of the Acropolis. http://amaliahotelathens.gr/

greece sunset on terraceDespite being surrounded by the historical remains of the cradle of the Western civilization, what my daughter liked the most in Athens was the Locked Room Mystery game we played twice. Once it was a regular murder mystery and once it was the Pope who had been murdered! Three of us were locked in the room and given a set of clues which would eventually solve the mystery and allow us to be released from the room. We had one hour to solve it, the clues were clever and the thrill of solving was real ! If you want do it here is a link http://athensclue.gr/

We took the ferry from Athens to Mykonos, which is a simply gorgeous place. The downtown was so lovely and clean and beautiful. It was even more charming because there are people who actually live in that area with the cobblestone streets and whitewashed walls and so many small churches and cafes and shops. And the cats! There are cats everywhere you go and they all look well fed and healthy.

Some mandatory photos we took there were of the windmills and the sunset.

sunset

It is impossible to take any bad photos in Greece! Everything looks intense under the Mediterranean sky and the white washed walls and bright flowers just make everything look luscious. I remembered the delicious descriptions of the Greek island that Gerald Durrell writes about in My Family and Other Animals, when his mother takes him and his siblings from England to go and live there.

greece windmills

We stayed at the Hotel Aeolos https://aeolos-hotel.com/en/  and ate at Jimmy’s Gyros which was truly delicious, inexpensive and so friendly! The beaches are clean and the water is simply the bluest of blue. But I prefer reading in the shade or even indoors rather than getting a migraine and sunburn on the beach, so here I am with a book about my favourite Detective Fiona Griffiths ( written by Harry Bingham) and a delicious repast of fresh fish and vegetables in a tangy lemony sauce.

 

After 3 days there we travelled to Santorini which was also nice but not quite as charming as Mykonos. We stayed at http://www.alesahne.gr/

The famous black beach was just pebbles and no sand and then the famous white beach was just a regular beach with sand….but the food was delicious as ever and we saw a surreal movie *ing Scarlett Johanssen as a Japanese woman (and that was not even the most surreal part…there were robots and body snatching with a very convoluted but ultimately clichéd plot line). However we saw it in a delightful open air theatre which made up for everything. The weather was perfect, the air was cool and the stars were out, the popcorn was yummy and they also gave us blankets to cover our legs. Apparently it is one of the last functioning open air theatres in Europe. ( I don’t know about you but information like this always makes me feel almost obliged to give them my custom to prevent them from shutting down 🙂 ) http://www.cinekamari.gr/

greek clouds

On Santorini island you should visit Fia and Oia where the three blue domes are to be found that have become a hallmark of every tourist and their ‘wish you were here’ postcards and photos. Of course we also had to get one of those photos –and there was a looong queue to sit at the perfect spot, including  an entire class of college students from Vietnam and many pre wedding photo shoot couples from Japan.

three domes

But the best part for me was finding this adorable little bookshop down a flight of crooked stairs which has its own philosophy tower!

bookshop

I could have happily lived there for weeks….but I had to leave with only 2 books. Both awesome books which I am enjoying reading and re-reading. (Why I am not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin, and The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry.)

I saw many interesting elements of art and design in posters and even the in -flight magazine.

A note on the food. The best thing you can eat there is of course the souvlaki and gyros. Nothing can beat a freshly wrapped one, with fries and tzatziki. The taste is very similar to Indian food –like a kebab being wrapped in a fluffy- as- a- cloud naan and some cucumber raita added in. http://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/how-greek-food-is-similar-to-indian-cuisine-704136

gyros

But honestly, souvlaki at every single meal can get a bit tedious……though we did have a lot of fish too. I have no idea what vegetarians would manage to live on though there seemed to be many options involving eggplant and such.

greek salad

We also ate LOTS of Greek salad which tastes fantastic in Greece, and a lot more Baclava than can possibly be healthy. We found out that they make coffee by putting the small pot in hot sand, much like our moongfalliwala in Mumbai.

Confession–Despite the delicious local food, we were thrilled to find a Thai restaurant on the 5th day and ate Pad Thai and Green Curry like there was no tomorrow!

I am going to end this post with a short clip of a surreal and insanely funny scene about a classical Greek Dinner from Birdcage. If you haven’t seen the movie, please do! It has nothing to do with Greece actually (besides Agador Spartacus 🙂 but it is brilliant.

Why does no one love the villages of India?

quote-india-s-way-is-not-europe-s-india-is-not-calcutta-and-bombay-india-lives-in-her-seven-mahatma-gandhi-128-91-56Dear Mohanlal,

Hope that all is well with you, Lakshmi, Parvati and Aai Baba.

I have got a job with a very nice family in Mumbai. Their daughter is older than me and is studying Political Science in college. She did not have to drop out in the 8th like I did because there are many toilets in her school and also she can go safely on public transport. We have electricity and running water here for 24 hours.

We have many long chats in the evening after she gets back from college (all alone even after dark, imagine that!).You will not believe how many new things I have learnt in the last three months. She has also agreed to help me learn how to use a laptop computer!

She says Gandhi-ji believed that India lives in her villages. She thinks that if he were here today, as with many other things he believed in- such as truth and non- violence, he may have to re- think this too.

According to her, urbanization is the reality, not just for India, but for the entire planet. It is estimated that by 2050 close to 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities.

She says that we claim to be an agricultural country where the country depends on the farmer for food but the farmer cannot depend on the government for water!

As you know so well, in our villages there continue to be huge and often violent clashes between castes and genders, along with insecurity over regular income, lack of sanitation, electricity and other basic infrastructure.

Didi’s fiance is studying to be a doctor. Isn’t that wonderful? I wish some doctors like him were available when our Tai died in childbirth and Ganya from the farm died after his wound got infected and the local nurses also would not touch him because of our caste.

Adarsh Dada says that there is a huge gap in rural healthcare needs caused more by poor infrastructure and lack of accountability issues than just a lack of doctors and nurses. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4014652/

He says that to assume that throwing more doctors at it is the solution is as absurd as trying to throw gold coins at a starving child.

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He asks why aren’t IIT and IIM graduates also sent to the villages? The government subsidizes so many streams of education. Why don’t we have a rural bond for lawyers? Architects? Journalists? FTII graduates? Surely our rural population can benefit from all their inputs also.

If the government calculates the cost per head of medical training to include the running of the public hospitals then it’s kind of like including the cost of running India when you train an IAS officer. Or the cost of defending the country when you train an armed forces officer.

If you can afford to spend upto 1 crore or beyond then sure, become a doctor through a private medical college, bond free and then go abroad for your PG.

But if you cannot afford that and want/ need to get admission on merit, prepare to pay for expensive prep classes, give up your entire life for upwards of 2 years and then see what fate has in store for you.

Despite all this, there are still students from poor families entering medical colleges. He said there were some from our Kokan villages also! But many of them have to earn money by doing milk runs and newspaper rounds to be able to buy food in the canteen. Dada’s mother’s friends raised funds to set up a corpus so that they can help these students.

Basically this is like the jhuming we do in our farms, where you burn it all down so you can create a new crop. Remember how Baba talks of the time we had to incinerate all our hens 15 years ago due to the Ranikhet virus scare? And then people stopped buying ‘gavthi’ chicken and only the big companies selling packed meat from fridges stayed in the market.

Adarsh Dada says that this new scheme to force medical students to go villages is going to result in even less students opting for medicine in public colleges. It is a road to privatization, so brazen and yet so twisted, that eventually not just healthcare education but healthcare itself could become privatized and no one left accountable for it to the people any more.

We saw a really scary movie last week called Summer 2007, starring Gul Panag. It’s about five medical students who visit a village in Maharashtra and witness the misfortune of villagers. I think our Minister for Medical Education should also watch it!

Didi’s mother also saw the movie with us and said that says that when she did her rural internship, the doctor who was supposed to supervise them performed all surgeries— including caesareans and post mortems, since he was the only doctor around. One day a body was brought in by the cops. They said he was found dead behind a bush. She asked the Doctor what he died of. He gave her a strange look and said, “Whatever the cops said he died of. If I write something different then tomorrow you will find my body behind the bush.”

She said that after that chilling episode, she simply could not wait to leave the village and get back to urban safety!

Even now, women doctors and women health workers have no assured safety in the villages when they have to make house visits at odd hours in emergencies with no vehicles, no public transport, no street lights, no electricity. Why would anyone choose that life? http://ijme.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/20170221-the-safety-of-women.pdf

As a surprise to no one, when doctors are asked to settle in villages they also want the same things that anyone else wants—safety, sanitation, schools, social life and successful career. What of these can the government ensure??

On top of all that Didi says that the government reduces healthcare budget to almost less than 1 % of the GDP. Imagine, Mohan, if we had 100 Rs to spend at home and I give you only 1 Re for managing the entire month’s medical costs?

It is so absurd that I started laughing when she explained it!

I was remembering when we had to sell 2 guntha of our land to pay for medical care after you had broken your leg because our bullock Dhavalya ran into you. I cannot imagine why the government would keep such a ridiculously small budget for a country of 1.2 billion people! https://thewire.in/80401/increased-healthcare-spending-key-to-economic-growth-in-india/

 

mt_cartoon

 

 

Meanwhile it seems that India’s medical tourism is projected to grow to $7–8 billion in the next few years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Didi’s mother says that the key to ensuring good healthcare in villages and even well managed villages is that every MP and MLA goes to his or her own constituency for healthcare.

No dashing off to AIIMS in Delhi or Beth Israel in America and certainly no using private care anywhere.

Every time the politicians say:

“India lives in the villages! Send doctors there to improve healthcare!”

Adarsh Dada wants to reply:

“India lives in the villages! Let all MPs and MLAs seek complete healthcare only in their own village!”

Looking forward to seeing all of you when I come down for Lakshmi’s wedding.

Warm regards,

Your sister,

Saraswati

 

Open Letter to FABB ( aka Farhan Akhtar and Brothers-in Arms in Bollywood)

We must first thank you for your thoughtful and timely interventions using various online forums and open letters (there are those who say actions speak louder than words but hey, haters gonna hate, right?)

( refer to the earlier blogpost for part 1 of this conversation)

social_media_freak

However, Ms. Diana, our Value Ed teacher, always taught us to have an inquiring mind and not take things at face value. So we have put together a list of certain questions we wanted to share with you.

Why were you not moved enough to write a strong letter to Salman Bhaijan when he joked about rape? http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/W7hynBkaR7U0HFAyVDJ0HL/Why-Salman-Khan-can-joke-about-rape-and-get-away-with-it.html. Why did you not caution him about slapping around his girlfriends? Or perhaps you did not know what we knew and what we did not know.

In fact when we read Aishwarya Rai’s statement from 2003, we thought it was actually written by our current girl who must not be named! What a coincidence isn’t it?? Just like the unrelated look- alikes from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai where the actor turns up in two places at once with different names and passports. Paris and Mumbai. Sorry, was it New Zealand and Mumbai? http://indiaopines.com/aishwarya-rai-statement-salman-khan/

“For the sake of my well-being, my sanity, my dignity and the dignity and self-respect of my family — ENOUGH! I will not work with Mr Salman Khan. The Salman chapter was a nightmare in my life and I am thankful to God that it is over!

While I have maintained a dignified silence about him and his wrong-doings, he (his family and friends) has repeatedly attacked the respect, dignity and pride of me and my family (with irresponsible rumour mongering. I stood by him enduring alcoholism, misbehavior in worse phases and in turn, I was at the receiving end of his abuse (verbal, physical, emotional), infidelity and indignity. ………. And I must add, that it has been very easy for some members of the film industry, media or social circles to flog opinions, when they have not been at the receiving end. And when so many of them God knows, have been witnesses and in knowledge of the truth. This is truly sad.

Contrary to the rumours, I do not call him. On the contrary, he has tried calling me and texting me on the pretext of his film Bajirao Mastani even using Mr Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s identity. I have been compelled to make this otherwise trivial validation in print because of the continuous lies and false stories being circulated [by a strong clique].

Honestly, I do not have the time, energy and man power [in media or social circuits] to keep reiterating validations against every [and seemingly constant] false stories or allegations.

Aaaanyway……moving on:

Why did you not write a strongly worded appeal to Rishi Kapoor Uncle when he told a woman ‘ass wipe and screw you’ on Twitter? That sounded pretty discriminatory and offensive to us. Plenty of men in Bollywood he could have called that too. They must be in tears at being left out of his farrago of curses and ravings? Are you aware that online violence against women is correlated to real life misogyny and violence ?

rishi kapoor tweet

Why didn’t you make a heartfelt and emotional appeal to Aamir Khan Big Bro not to make a joke of the word balaatkar / rape in his movie ‘3 idiots’ which was a ‘U’ certified film and released across the country at almost 2000 screens? You do know that more than a 1000 women get raped in India everyday? Or is it because as you say in your letter “most does not mean all” and MARD is only for Men Against Rape and Discrimination—of Men ? https://qz.com/343850/why-is-aamir-khan-offended-by-the-aib-roast-when-he-has-done-worse-in-3-idiots/

Why did you not pen an insightful and reflective letter to Amit Uncle on his b’day recently asking him to offer an unconditional retroactive apology for all those years when he played not just an Angry Young Man but often the Harassing and Crass Young Man ? Right from harassing Aruna Irani in Bombay to Goa till Kimi Katkar in the song Jumma Chumma. Not to mention the Lambu Tambu Mein Bambu song in Mard. Misogyny can also be as subtle as leaving out all the women from your family tree like Uncle has done recently. https://www.newslaundry.com/2016/09/08/are-there-no-women-worth-mentioning-in-the-bachchan-nanda-lineage

Where were you when Golmaal, Humshakal and other crude, crass and repugnant films were being released, with women being shown as sex objects and with toilet humour, pheromone sprays and men in drag considered comic relief ? Some such movies have been directed by your own first cousin brother Sajid Khan. Surely you have a family Whatsapp group where you could have sent him an open letter?

Why have you not written an extra open letter to Suzanne Bhabhi who divorced this ‘good soul’ for no apparent reason but is now being seen in photographs and at events with him way more than when they were married ?!

Her ex –husband gave this explanation for the divorce: “I am just trying to say that there are many reasons why people would like to live separate lives. Infidelity is just one of them. So the general assumption was, ‘Ah he is the superstar, he must have done something wrong. She must have caught him.’ That is not the case. We are great friends. It is between us. The reason that we decided to live separately may have been an inspiring reason, how do you know?” http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/hrithik-roshan-sussanne-khan-divorce-kangana-ranaut-affair/1/1064500.html

HUH??

You say in your open letter that you are not the authority on what is right and what is wrong.

Trust us, we know that.

However, we at our collective like to believe that even a 2 year old can understand good touch and bad touch and a 20 year old can certainly understand what is a cheating relationship and a 50 year old like your self should have figured out right and wrong by now! Unless of course, you are not in full possession of the facts. But all of you met recently in a well- choreographed dinner photo op, tabhi pooch toh liya hota bhai ??

dinner kJO

We are also waiting with bated breath for your open letter to the Sabarimala Temple Board Chief after he has said this: “If women are allowed, we can’t ensure their security. We don’t like to convert it as a sex tourism spot like Thailand. Even if the court opens its doors I don’t think self-respecting women will dare to go up to the hill shrine,” he said.

We do hope you can ask him also clarify if he meant there would be lesbian sex work (which would be super discriminatory to men isn’t it??) or Men would in any way be involved? Perhaps they could consider keeping Men out for a few centuries now and once they have learnt to behave properly with Women in public and private spaces without turning temples into brothels and homes into torture chambers, then only let them back in ? We have found that such strict discipline works very well with the boys in standard 4 and 5 in our school before they join the co-ed middle school.

Would you like us to put you in touch with a group like LABIA (Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action—which, by the way, has totally burned you in the acronym stakes!!) or CLITS (Cultural and Literary Innovations and Talks Society) to explain to you why all these aforementioned episodes reek rather obstreperously of discrimination? And that sexism is the start of the slippery slope for the rape culture?

Which we are still confused whether MARD is against or not if it does not involve other men??!

Once you have a deeper understanding of this issue and recognize that even if ‘most does not mean all’, it still means that 99.9% such cases involve women and you do want to get involved in those too, then you may need a full time typist and PR person and we can recommend some very good ones for you. They have passed Summa cum Laude from the Sir Humphrey School for Secretarial and Media Communication.

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We do need more men to join in the fight against sexism and misogyny and patriarchy and gender discrimination. But smart acronyms do not a feminist make. Neither does performing one scene in your sister’s film where you defend a woman being ‘allowed’ to work.

It doesn’t take too much of a ‘mard’ to defend his own chaddi-buddies and yaar-dost and it does enormous damage when the speaking out is so one sided. You may need to change your name to Men Against Rape and ‘Discrimination Against Nepotism’ and ‘Ganging up as Insiders’—MARDANGI.

As remarked in our earlier covering letter, we did use your letter to do a parsing exercise in our Advanced English class and found remarkable parallels also with Quentin Tarantino’s response to the Weinstein scandal where he mainly expressed his own sorrow at coping with the news rather than outrage about what had actually happened to women. https://ashleyjanssen.com/page/3/

QT on Harvey

Perhaps we could recommend some good books for the MARD office library which could help widen and deepen the perspective of the MARD staff on gender discrimination, censorship and the politics of gender: such as Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder and Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex.

Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,

Everywoman,

Founder and Coordinator

Voices Against Gender Insensitive Nepotism Alliances

V.A.G.I.N.A

 

 

Dear Farhan Akhtar and Brothers- in- arms in Bollywood (aka FABB),

We applaud your courage in standing up for Hrithik in what you would like to believe is the good fight. You are writing on behalf of the MARD which is ‘Men Against Rape and Discrimination’.

https://www.facebook.com/farhanakhtarlive/posts/908392775975031

Since your open letter is, in a marvellous Kafkaesque way, addressed to everyone and yet no one but also manages to target one person, who must not be named, we are wondering who is going to send you a reply.

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I am Everywoman and in my convent school when Ms Rose Dias (my God bless her) taught us English, using the everlasting Wren and Martin’s English Grammar and Composition Book (I have still kept my tattered and much thumbed copy with its frayed red binding….. but I digress), one of the things we learnt was that it is rude to leave a letter unanswered. So we are replying to you on behalf. Of whoever open letters are written to.

It was in fact Ms Mallika Dua in the staff room who paused in her rantings about a boy who is a waste of space (Poor Dhananjay. He really does it bring it upon himself) and brought to our notice your open letter.

Initially we thought MARD referred to an old Amitabh Bachchan film which had dialogues like ‘Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota’ and a rather repugnant and despicable ‘double meaning’ song called “Lambu tambu mein bambu lagaaye baithe, Maine jor lagaaya hayya hu, haath se bhi dabaaya, Par dil ki miti na chubhan.”

We were rather alarmed and quite a-twitter at this, but once we all composed ourselves and realized that this was released all the way back in 1989 and not likely to corrupt our lovely little boys anymore, we searched on Google and learned that you have founded M.A.R.D which is Men Against Rape and Discrimination.

Sister Mary was so delighted when we shared that information with her. Whenever we discuss in the staffroom if the Future is Female, she has always told us, while working the rosary beads and adjusting her wimple, “Patience! Patience! It will come.”

The only problem is that we thought the name meant Men against Rape and Discrimination -of WOMEN. But after reading your open letter we realized that it actually means Men Against Rape and Discrimination –of OTHER MEN. This quote from your letter makes the situation so much clearer now.

Until such a time that the matter is brought to its logical conclusion by the authorities, we must avoid vilifying the man on the basis of unsubstantiated statements. Let’s not discriminate.”

I must confess that we were a bit discombobulated upon this discovery. In India, where more than a 1000 women are raped every DAY, women are still being set on fire for not bringing enough dowry, beaten with hockey sticks for giving birth to a girl child, having acid thrown on them ( like the sister of ‘she who is not named’ in your open letter), murdered, commit suicide ( like the girlfriend of one of the men who is standing up for the ‘man who must not be named’ in your letter) and just generally discriminated against on a daily or even hourly basis, we are slightly puzzled as to why more MARD  is needed.

But as my Hindi teacher Ms Mehbooba used to say—Jahan DARD Wahan MARD. I guess she was right after all.

I am proud to tell you that I am also now an English teacher and I intend to use your open letter for parsing exercises and as a demonstration of a piece of writing that brings to mind , simultaneously, so many writing effects.

The obfuscation of Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister when you say-“I am not the authority on who is right or wrong in their situation

(“Yes, Prime Minister.” said Sir Humphrey Appleby: “It is not for a humble mortal such as I to speculate on the complex and elevated deliberations of the mighty.”)

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You also reminded us of Donald Rumsfield, (who was the Secretary of Defence- a task you have risen to rather well in your own letter we must say!) when you said: “Well, the truth is that WE do not know the truth. “

Here is what he said when questioned about the Iraq war “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

There is also a hint of Shashi Tharoor’s sesquipedalian-ism in your letter: “The reason I felt the need to say this is that it is apparent that some people have already jumped to conclusions while some are deriving some sort of voyeuristic pleasure by encouraging the woman to carry on speaking. “

With a dash of Salman Rushdie’s magic realism here : “Today I read an open letter written by a man I know about a woman I know, professionally, at best.”

We even thought there was a charming allusion to Alice in Wonderland when you say: “For a moment, let us put aside emotion, prejudice, biases, our understandably protective instincts and look at the facts as they exist today

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Of course you have learnt your literary craft at the knees of your father Javed Akhtar, mother Honey Irani (who has, incidentally, been the screenwriter for Kaho Na Pyar Hai, Koi Mil Gaya, Krrish and Krrish 3), your second mother Shabana Azmi, your father’s writing partner Salim Khan, perhaps Gulzar Uncle and a veritable smorgasbord of literary influences.

In fact when we first read this earlier tweet from you we thought you were admonishing the Bollywood fraternity (we cannot say sorority given how male dominated the film industry continues to be) for ganging up against the girl who must not be named.

tweet on ram raheem

But it turns out that you were addressing Ram Rahim’s disciples and followers who were running amok when he was finally called out for his lying and manipulation and messing with girls’ lives.

We apologize for this bungle and we promise to follow you even more very closely on Twitter in the future, so that we don’t miss anything subtle.

(It’s a good thing this is not a voice message or you would have noticed a distinct snicker, or perhaps even a chortle in the background. Ms. Zeenat, our PT teacher has a rather active sense of humour, despite having almost lost an eye from a beating. By a Man.).

Anyway, I don’t want to keep you from your very busy life making men in India feel safe, so I shall get on to the main Open Letter to FAB.

It should reach you by the morning post tomorrow.

Regards,

Everywoman

 

Kangana, Jiah, Diana, Monica and me:

I am Everywoman. I must say I feel sorry for ‘poor’ Hrithik. He was ‘stalked by a crazed woman’ who ‘claims he had an affair’ with her while he was still married. She sent him ‘thousands of unsolicited emails’. He ‘never met her even once outside of their work’. He is ‘so worried for his kids’ that he finally broke his silence.

Yes. He had to break his silence and clarify.

Unlike Amitabh Bacchhan, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Sunny Deol, Sanjay Khan, Salman Khan or anyone else in the past had to ever clarify to any women in their lives in public or ever for that matter. Except maybe Dilip Kumar who could not manage to get away with the ‘accidental affair’ with Asma.

Because finally some woman decided not to keep quiet!! She brushed the man off as a ‘silly ex’ and when he retaliated with a swat she retaliated with a blast. She finally showed what it is like when the bully is stood up to. Whether the bully is a smug flag bearer of nepotism or a lame duck has- been star son who has benefited from that nepotism. It could have been Abhishek or Farhan or Salman or Ranbir or Adhyayan Suman or anyone of the long list of slightly failed star family sons with sad skills at relationships of their own who are now supporting Mr. H.

Willy- nilly (pun intended) Mr H will go down in history as the first Bollywood Hero to be called out and shamed so publicly by the woman he was not honest with. He may have played the superhero Krrish but she is surely his Kryptonite!

Men have never needed to shush the women till now because the patriarchy had done its job well. Women were shushing themselves. “What will people say? What will my parents say?? It must have been my fault. My reputation will be in shreds if I speak out!”

As a result of this conspiracy of silence, no man has been called out like this in the past.

Zeenat Aman was slapped and beaten up in a hotel lobby by Hrithik’s (now ex) father- in- law (in full sight of the public and so much that her eye has been permanently damaged). Dimple was repeatedly cheated on by Twinkle’s father and now Sunny Deol continues to be married to his wife but in a public relationship with Dimple herself. Aishwarya Rai was slapped around by Farhan’s father’s writer partner Salim Khan’s son Salman,“ but he never hit me on my face.”

Aww cho chweet !!

And these are the people who are standing up for old buddy H.

In her suicide note said “There was a time I saw my life with you, a future with you. But you shattered my dreams. I feel dead inside. I’ve never given so much of myself to someone or cared so much. You returned my love with cheating and lies. It didn’t matter how many gifts I gave you or how beautiful I looked for you. I was scared of getting pregnant but I gave myself completely the pain you have caused me everyday has destroyed every bit of me, destroyed my soul. I can’t eat or sleep or think or function. I am running away from everything.” http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/jiah-khan-suicide-case-this-is-what-jiah-khans-letter-to-sooraj-pancholi-said-abortion-pregnancy-court-full-text/1/544424.html

 

Diana, the Princess of Wales, suffered in a loveless marriage, which is fine, many of us Everywoman do. But she was made out to be crazy, she pitched into bulimia and despite the various clarifications and no end to the conspiracy theories, today the reality is that she is dead from a suspicious car crash and the Man is married to his lover and mistress and living in the Palace.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/29/diana-tapes-reveal-queens-reply-to-sobbing-plea-loveless-marriage

Monica Lewsinsky was a 22 year old intern with stars in her eyes, working at the White House. Bill Clinton was 44 year old Man. He was the President of the USA for heaven’s sake! He was married and had a daughter who was Monica’s age. They had an affair and like the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ they apparently ‘had- some- sex- that- was ‘not sex’. Considering she had it with a man who ‘smoked but did not inhale’, that was not much of a surprise. Eyeroll. But who did the shame and the dirt stick to? Bill Clinton now has a Clinton Foundation worth millions of dollars and goes on world tours giving lectures. What does Monica have?

She admitted in the interview that she “came very close” to attempting suicide. “I felt like every layer of my skin and my identity were ripped off me in ’98 and ’99,” she said. “It’s a skinning of sorts. You feel incredibly raw and frightened.” https://www.today.com/news/monica-lewinsky-new-revealing-interview-shame-sticks-you-tar-t86876

Rupan Deol Bajaj was an IAS officer whose bottom was slapped in public by KPS Gill. She retaliated by slapping a lawsuit. Some of the things she was told when she did it—She was vindicated after a long drawn out case which took 17 years but not before being told a thousand times to shut the f**k up and not call out The Man. Who was a Hero and a good Son of Mother India and such https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/31/kps-gill-sexual-harasser/

Sanskari Alok Nath had this wonderful culturally appropriate and sensitive thought to share some moths ago:

Alok-Nath-Twitter-Controversy

While Rishi Kapoor of the ‘Great Kapoor Khandan’ (as he likes to keep reminding everyone) had this to say :

rishi kapoor tweet

Even Gulzar of the gulabi aakhen and pighalti zulfein has apparently beaten up Rakhee and prevented her from working in films.

https://www.pinkvilla.com/entertainment/nostalgia/360851/flashback-friday-night-which-changed-gulzar-raakhees-marriage

Gulzar-Shayari-poetry

I will save the details of the ‘mad woman in attic’ trope for another blogpost but one must talk here about Gaslighting. The term originates in the systematic psychological manipulation of a victim by the main character in the 1938 stage play Gas Light.

gaslight 2

The checklist of diversion tactics used by highly manipulative and narcissistic sociopaths apparently includes:

Gaslighting, projection, nonsense conversations from hell, over generalizations, wilful misrepresentations, changing the subject and name calling. Everyone from Hrithik’s bizarre saving of 1000s of unsolicited emails to Adhyayan Suman’s accusations of witch craft using menstrual blood to the name calling by Shekhar Suman to the nonsense conversation from hell that was Hrithik’s weirdly shifty and rehearsed ‘interview ‘with the nation which wants to know (mainly when this is all going to end and we can carry on with gossiping about Aamir Khan and the Dangal girl)

https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2016/06/20-diversion-tactics-highly-manipulative-narcissists-sociopaths-and-psychopaths-use-to-silence-you/

 

Of course one could turn around and say that she is using the same tactics but just because she has shown some really bad judgement in her choice of boyfriends, that does not mean she is lying. I find it TOTALLY un- believable that the smart, sharp and badass woman who made the ‘Coz I have vagina re’ video is making up all this.

 

 

However, even if there is not an iota of truth in anything she has said, I am going to cheer her on for having not just opened but smashed the door of the Pandora’s box and no man, at least in Bollywood, will indulge in an affair or take a woman lightly by thinking he can shame her into silence.

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So go for it Kangana ! Everywoman and her sisters are with you, and so is Gandhiji.

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We are all just stories in the end.

story-telling

We wrap them around us.

Like a veil ……or sometimes like an armour….. and sometimes even like a shroud.

All children love stories. Especially about themselves or their parents as children.

“When mummy was a little girl she ran away from school in the lunch break”.

They giggle and look over at Mummy who is making angry eyes at Granny for this.

“Do you know what your grandfather did one Diwali when you were scared of the firecrackers??”

“When your father was small we used to pay him 10 Rs. to keep quiet for 10 minutes!”

We take these stories and use them like Lego blocks…… to build our identities, our personalities, our future self, or past shadows. We start telling ourselves these stories to reinforce the sense of self.

“I am not THAT kind of a person.”

“My family means more to me than my career.”

She really did love me.”

We try to make sense of the world and our place in it through these stories in our head.

stories

We love stories so much that JK Rowling had become richer than the Queen of England at one point! We need so much constant story telling as a race that we print or e-write over millions of new books and see 1000’s of new movies every year. And that is not even counting the millions of blogs, YouTube videos, Netflix binge watching and pirated copies of Game of Thrones doing the rounds! From the earliest cave paintings to Avatar 3 D, they are all just stories. The bedtime tales, the newspapers, the movies, the Twitters and Facebooks and Buzzfeed, everything is basically telling you a story.

Sometimes about what happened, sometimes about what is yet to happen and sometimes about what could have been.

The Vedas are believed to be as much as 7000 years old and they were shared down the ages by recitation (hence called Veda meaning that which is heard).

Around 2000 years ago some other stories emerged and became major world religions as the ‘word of God’ was written down and had to be followed. Myths became Mythology and then forced upon us as The ONLY Truth.

in the beginning was the word

 

Some stories have a short arc of a day or an event or a month.

Some interesting ones may take even 30 years to turn a page and move forward.

Some stories may be changed to re-invent who we are.

Irish song writer Sarah Daly says it beautifully in her poem Iteration:

“Have you seen my old self?

I think I must have lost her,

I wonder if I cost her Her life?

I am recycled cells,

I learn to like myself,

More with each iteration”

 

The stories get more structured and formal the further we go from the self.

From “Oh, we don’t make sabzi that way in our family” to “Of course, those people are bigamists” is not a very far leap in terms of storylines.

As we get formalized into professions, these stories take on different shapes. They emerge as Company Rules and Standard Operating Protocol. Code of Ethics. Guidelines. THIS is how WE do things around here.

The larger structures of government and society build these steel frameworks of stories around us, like the Doozers from Fraggle Rock. Constantly building, re-building, busy, busy, busy. They call them law, culture, morals, values. They tell us that THIS is how we do things in India. So if you are a good Indian you will/ will not do this.

But although these frameworks have walls, they also have windows, and through them keep coming the whispers.

Through the framework of worshipping Ram come the questions about the banishment of Sita. From the stories of ‘good girls behave this way’ come the whispers about Kunti. From the stories of how husbands will always protect the wife if she is good, come the stories of Draupadi.

Sometimes from the framework you can see bodies hanging. Of couples who tried to bring in a plot twist by marrying across caste and religion. Of couples who loved in the same sex. Of girls and women who asked too many questions about the way the stories were being written on their bodies. Why father? Why do I have to marry this man who is 20 years older? Why mother? Why can’t I study like my brother? Why? Why am I not an equal human being?

When pipelines are being built through ancient Native American land, when villages in India are being drowned to build a new dam, when migrant domestic workers are being locked in the basement, when 10 year old girls are raped and gentle young brides are being set on fire for dowry, the whispers grow louder and sometimes become war cries.

And constantly, through all the white noise and the fake news, the propaganda, the moral panic and the covfefe, our own soul tries to remind us that this is all maya, an illusion.

We wake up from a dream where we are falling, falling, falling so far down and we have left our body behind. We hover over it briefly and then, when we wake up with a start, all is well……. but is it just another layer of the dream?

Our existence is such a random chance. To be alive at this moment in time and space; born of stardust and back to it in just a few short spins around the sun.

We need to re-tell ourselves that story above all else.

Spinning away around the sun as it spins around the galaxy as it spins around the centre of an ever expanding Universe or maybe a Multiverse.

Stories this is my dreamwithin stories within a dream.

But that should not make us helpless. On the contrary! It should make us completely fearless! We can change the narrative anytime that we choose. We can write our own destiny because there is no template!

 

 

 

 

As The Doctor says: “We are all stories in the end. Just remember to make it a good one.”

stories in the end

Who was Ram’s Sita ?

It is a sort of metaphor in India that if you tell someone a long winded story and they ask you a very basic plot/ character query, you roll your eyes and say “Well, who is Ram’s Sita??!” Meaning that she is the pivot for the Great War in Ramayana and you have clearly missed the plot.

Today is Vijaya Dashmi or Dussehra. It is celebrated as a triumph of good over evil and has two main stories: Ram killed Raavan in an epic battle and Goddess Durga killed Mahishasur. (more on him later).

Although the Mahabharat and Ramayan are probably a few thousand years apart, they do have some interwoven narratives. One of the timelines is also that on the day of Vijaya Dashmi, the Pandavas came out of hiding from their own 14 year exile and took their weapons back from the tree whose leaves we distribute as ‘gold’today. We worship our ‘tools and weapons’ on this day, which in our household translates into placing flowers on books, pens, the laptop and the wifi router 🙂

ayudh puja

However, unlike the Mahabharat (which is the most amazing multi- layered story ever–forget Big Little Lies and Game of Thrones! This is the one you should dig into if you like your main characters flawed and you like seeing petty issues completely unravel people’s lives and you enjoy dark complicated plot twists), the Ramayan has always left me underwhelmed. Maybe even as a child I picked up on the serious patriarchal overtones, the strange injustices done to the women characters, the odd glorification of Ram despite some seriously questionable judgement calls, the odd devotion of Laxman among others.

Of course Ram is believed to be a God and one of the reincarnations of Vishnu sent to Earth and worshipped by Hindus.

 

Anyway, in the Ramayan, the key plot twists are around Kaikeyi, Manthara in the first half and Shurpanakha, Sita in the next. Kaushalya doesn’t get much of a chance to speak really. (But seriously, the entire point of being the lead queen is lost if your son gets sent off for 14 years AND loses the crown, right?? Speak out woman!)

We have been told that Dashrath married two more women after Kaushalya, because he could not have children. Well, it seems that he did have a child with Kaushalya–a daughter, Shanta. But he was so desperate for a son that Shanta was sent away to marry a celibate sage in order to ensure that Dashrath has a son ! http://devdutt.com/articles/indian-mythology/the-story-of-rams-elder-sister.html

If you don’t know your Ramayan in detail and didn’t grow up in my generation when the streets would get deserted when BR Chopra’s TV series was being telecast and women did puja of the screen before sitting down, then check out the plot and main story highlights here. https://www.importantindia.com/20551/story-of-ramayana/

So on to Kaikeyi—what was her deal ? A warrior Princess (from Afghanistan probably, like Gandhari from Mahabharat), she married the much older Dashrath because he promised her father that her son would be King. He also gave her two boons because she saved his life in the battle field. Pretty big commitments don’t you think? And then, as old powerful mmantharaen are wont to do (recall Dushyant from Shankuntala ? Bill Clinton and Monica from the White House? Modi and Jashoben ?), he forgot about her and moved on with his life. But Manthara was looking out for Kaikeyi’s interests cos if your Queen’s son doesn’t get to be King, then she becomes just the sad old widow number 3 once the King is dead. So our folklore promptly makes her out to be a shrewish witch. Well, anyway, long story short, Kaikeyi demands her rights and Ram goes off to the forest. mithila

Rewind a bit and before all this, Ram has gone for a Swayamvar (literally an event to ‘choose your own spouse’) and won the contest and married Sita. She is the daughter of King Janak. But wait, is she? She was ‘found’ in a buried casket in a field in the kingdom –female infanticide much?? Was she a docile passive princess or a warrior queen herself ?

 

But now they are on the extended forest staycation, 14 years, no glamping but they had able bodied Laxman to help out, lots of organic fruits and berries and the occasional golden deer and assorted tribals.

sita-requests-rama-to-fetch-illusory-golden-deer-CH53_l

Cue Shurpanakha. Who is she? She is Raavan’s sister we are told. But then who was Raavan ? He was a tribal king, very strong, very learned and very powerful. According to one interpretation, Ravana performed an intense penance to Brahma, lasting several years. During this, he chopped off his head 10 times as a sacrifice to appease Brahma. Each time he sliced his head off, a new head arose, thus enabling him to continue his penance. Of course at the end of the day despite being a master of 64 types of knowledge, he became a slave to his feelings which finally led to his death. http://www.speakingtree.in/allslides/why-did-demon-king-ravana-have-ten-heads

Remember that the Ramayana is told from Ram’s point of view and from the Aryan race point of view. So the women from Surapanakha’s tribe probably were more empowered and able to negotiate relationships on their own (though the Swayamvar was also quite empowering. In principle. It seems to have been transmuted to some kind of a WWF with archery as the goal when marriage really does not revolve around those skills. Sigh)

Anyway, so Surapanakha approaches Ram, because she finds him attractive. He rejects her and suggest ravanayanLaxman. Laxman laughs at her and ‘cuts off her nose’. Could this be symbolic rather than the real physical injury we have seen in our Amar Chitra Kathas? Did he sexually assault her maybe? In any case, she goes to her brother Raavan, horrified at the injustice and humiliation and he decides to do take revenge. Not really very evil is that? When he kidnaps Sita (ok yes, abduction is evil) and keeps her in the Ashok Vatika, apparently he never forces himself upon her.

Is it possible that the narrative is actually just racist and the darker tribal people have been branded as Rakshasas who are all born evil and need to be destroyed?

 

In a similar tale, we have the legend of Mahishasura: Apparently the king of Asuras was enticed by the beauty of a she-buffalo and eventually married her. (take that you ‘gau rakshaks’). The child who was born from this union was named Mahishasura. He wanted to wage war against the Devas and to make himself invincible, so he performed austerities propitiating Brahma to confer upon him immortality. Brahma refused him the boon of immortality but gave him a boon such that his death would happen only at the hands of a woman. Mahishasura imagined that this was the equivalent of immortality since he believed it was impossible for a woman to slay a person of his strength. Ok…Brahma really needs to sort out his boon giving judgement calls here but there is an interesting alternative take on this narrative also.

To understand the politics of the Durga Puja, we may start from the idol itself. The goddess is fair-skinned (and hence, beautiful) and embodies all the virtues of life and is shown as slaying a demonic half-man-half-animal creature who is placed at her feet. The demon Mahishasur is dark-skinned, has a naked upper body and is attributed all “dark” (tamasik) characteristics. More than signifying the victory of good over evil, this very powerfully symbolises the subjugation of the dark-skinned indigenous inhabitants of the region, the adivasis, by the fairer Aryans.”

Sounds interesting? Read more here: http://www.dailyo.in/lifestyle/durga-puja-hinduism-lord-shiva-adivasi-mahishasur-bengali-ahalya-karl-marx/story/1/6904.html

And we are back to Sita. There have been myriad re-interpretations of her story, from her perspective, from that of the other women in Ramayan, even from Raavan’s point of view. Here is a fun subversive video called ‘Sita Sings the Blues’.

 

I happened to watch a TV serial recently, quite by mistake I assure you, called ‘Siya Ke Ram’. It actually had very empowered and dynamic and layered dimensions for the many women in the story. One of my favourite scenes is where Dashrath tells Kaikeyi that Ram is his older son and he will make him King. She sneers at him and says “None of these are YOUR sons! You are infertile! They are the sons of your wives, born from a yagna.” Yes!! Now that’s the way to tell truth to power. Salute!

The Ramayan will continue to be told, re –told and re –interpreted. It is a cultural and historical legacy we have to live with. Laxman’s rekha (line) is still used as a patriarchal symbol for limiting women’s options. Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya was at the centre of a controversy on Friday over his remark that women must not cross the Lakshman rekha to avoid unwanted consequences” http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/dont-cross-lakshman-rekha-minister-tells-women/article4273131.ece

Ram will continue to be held up as symbol of the ultimate Good Son, Good Warrior, Good King (not so hot as a husband given that he abandoned his wife after rescuing her. Quite the passive aggressive relationship.

in search of sita

She had to walk through fire to prove her chastity. What about him?? He was also single and able to mingle while she was gone? Then when he did find her later, with her twin boys, she was again asked to prove her purity and she was kind of fed up of this asked her mother to take her back. She said NO to another Agnipariksha. Not a feeble no which could mean yes. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/26/a-feeble-no-may-mean-yes-indian-court-overturns-conviction.

A firm NO. The earth opened up and back she went, to her ‘mother’s place’, to a place of peace and non- judgement.) http://www.womensweb.in/2016/08/women-in-the-ramayana-if-valmiki-been-a-woman/

modern-women-9

In any story always ask who is telling it. History is always written by victors. ‘Herstory’ is rarely told. And those who die in the wars never get to tell their tale…..

There is so much more to say and discuss but in order to keep the length reasonable, I am just going to end here with the recollection that it was the desire to ‘find’ Sita’s Temple and to ‘prove’ that Ayodhya was the birthplace of Ram, that led to the insane attempt to demolish the Babri Masjid and then the subsequent horrific Bombay bomb blasts of 1993. http://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/160617/1993-mumbai-serial-blasts-were-to-avenge-babri-demolition-says-cbi.html

Seeing the stories of the tragic stampede at Elphinstone Road station two days ago and the victims and injured being taken to KEM hospital reminded me so vividly of the day of the blasts when I was on duty in the casualty, and wave after wave of bodies started coming in. These were days way before the internet and even before mobile phones. We had simply no clue what had happened. We just took blood samples, started IV lines, eventually with bare hands when we ran out of gloves. We stuck plasters on the heads of the people brought it, wrote numbers on them and labelled the samples accordingly, since they were not conscious and there was no ID. We ran up and down from the Operation Theatres to the blood bank, from the casualty to the wards. The bodies started piling up outside as we triaged and took in only those who were still alive.

Today, as we worship Ram and Durga, symbols of the victory of good over evil, while simultaneously allowing citizens to die– due to corruption, poor urban planning and management, drown by falling into open manholes, be crushed to death for the crime of using public transport, tell women that the poor men who rape them get confused by a ‘feeble no which could be a yes’, tell girls who want to study to maintain the Laxman Rekha rather than become Kali and do a tandav demanding justice, what can one say better than this song does ?