Those of you who have been following this blog regularly will recognize this post from last year 🙂 But honestly, if Valentine’s Day is the birthday anniversary of the most beautiful and lovely woman from Bollywood, then why not celebrate it by remembering her?
Society has been progressing based on a legal and social institution created by patriarchy within the confines of heteronormativity and where monogamy is compulsory mostly only for the women involved. * slow clapping*
“Let me clarify that we are not against love. We have a problem with the obscene display happening in the name of love during days like Valentine’s Day… have you seen the cards that youth exchange during Valentine’s Day? They show couples kissing. Is that our culture? Is it how we should be celebrating love?” Jwalit Mehta, Bajrang Dal Ahmedabad president told DNA.
I think he is right. Maybe we should celebrate Kamasutra Day instead. Maybe they can block Rajpath with the same dhurries they use for Yoga Day and we should do an internationally televised display of Kamasutra positions in order to reclaim our culture from the evil Western influence.
I can see the TRP rating for this going stratospheric.
I am re-posting this from something I wrote 2 years ago. It is shocking to see how the situation has gotten worse since then and the attacks have become more brutal while the system and those in charge of it have done absolutely nothing to improve matters!
The system is oppressing both–the patients and the doctors and random individual acts of violence or even solidarity protests from the medical community are unlikely to bring about a change. If you know about the Stanford Prison experiment you will know that individuals may be fabulous but the system can make even God’s favourite angel Lucifer into the Devil incarnate!
This was originally posted in 2017.
In India the National Doctors’ Day is celebrated on July 1 all across India to honour the legendary physician and the second CM of West Bengal, Dr B.C. Roy. According to Wiki it is an attempt to emphasize on the value of doctors in our lives and to offer them our respects.
The doctors who do private practise are in it because they do care about patients and curing people but they also want to be free to do it their own way and to earn money. Because they want to be able to afford a house, send their children to good schools, own a car, travel abroad. Same as their friends who go to engineering colleges, do MBAs, law, work in finance sector etc. It’s a job like any other. And why not? India may have had a socialist heart but our hands are capitalist now. https://www.quora.com/Why-do-doctors-make-so-much-money
Most doctors work extremely hard, often losing the work-life balance, neglecting their own health, struggling to stay updated with their knowledge in a rapidly changing world while attending CMEs which do not always contribute to any education. Yes, some doctors did start unhealthy and unethical practises such as the cut practise and some doctors will do un- indicated diagnostics, or even un-indicated surgeries just like every profession has its black sheep. But once the market forces come into play, this is inevitable. Check out this wonderful book where the author explains how even blood donation when not voluntary can become a racket. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/17/what-money-cant-buy-michael-sandel-review
And here is a video where the author, who is the Professor of Justice at Harvard, talks eloquently about these ideas.
Yes there are some doctors who are extremely successful and many do fairly well. But like in every field there will be many more at the lower base of the pyramid, earning no more than a mid- range corporate job. After all for every SRK or Priyanka Chopra there are 10 Abhisheks. And the odd Dhinchak Pooja also J
Who cares that they spend years and years struggling with studies and ward work in an indifferent and often hostile environment, work through sleep deprivation during 36 hour shifts, doing blood collection with no gloves, often no regular food if you work a surgical residency, with cramped and dirty living quarters with limited facilities while managing to also run OPDs, look after the admitted patients, carry out surgeries and other life- saving interventions? Who is there to see when they run like crazy through the long corridors between labour ward and blood bank, after midnight, the last meal eaten hours ago, to get hold of blood bags when the ward staff go missing or would simply not move fast enough? http://www.dnaindia.com/health/report-a-doctor-s-life-Overworked-and-disillusioned-resident-doctors-are-fast-losing-hope-2378284
The current curriculum has a focus almost entirely on a biomedical curative model and the preventive and social medicine is the least liked subject. The wards are the temples of learning. We learn to diagnose typhoid, hepatitis, worm infestations, amoebic cysts through fever patterns, blood tests, palpating spleens, livers. And if no one solved the problems of potable water, toilets, hand washing, (besides of course the overarching issues of poverty, caste discrimination, malnutrition and gender inequality) well, then we have more patients to examine and treat!
Such medical students will emerge from the chrysalis of medical colleges as brilliant butterflies who can make Indian medical ‘industry’ among the best in the world with our health tourism attracting thousands every year. But how does the public health system benefit? How does the public benefit? And if the government does not solve these system issues who else is supposed to? What is the use of blaming individual doctors alone? http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h237/rr-3
We are always told that doctors should go to the villages because the need is the greatest and India lives in the villages etc etc. But I want to know that by that logic why doesn’t everyone go to the villages?? Why don’t civil engineers, architects, lawyers also go the villages? Why don’t ministers and politicians go to the hospitals in their own constituencies rather than jetting off to USA? Equally, one would want to know why so many people leave these villages and come to cities in their tens of thousands every single day to escape the poverty and caste politics and to improve the life of their families? Looks like no one wants to be in the villages right now, not even the villagers……
So, it seems to me that the only people who are really happy on Doctors’ Day is probably the pharma industry, corporate hospitals and politicians nexus who are working together like a vast satanic web with medical students, residents and private doctors and private patients all trapped in it, putting money and blood sweat and tears into keeping it going, while the ‘government’ turns a blind eye, the public system crumbles and the hostile public unable to see who is running the machine, wreck violence against those who are as much a victim of it as they are. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/doctors-continue-to-be-fed-and-bred-by-pharma-firms/article4760424.ece
The term “Hegemony” came from the writings of Karl Marx and was conceptualised by Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) a Marxist social philosopher. He theorised that one social class can manipulate the system of values and practices of a society, in order to create and establish a ruling-class worldview that justifies the status quo of their
domination of the other social classes of the society.
Simply put, a hegemony is a system where one ruling social group or state rearranges a system to suit its position.
We see it in action every day!
When we are taught in school about the World Wars where only a handful of countries from the global North waged it. When we are told that Britain was victorious without ever being told about the millions of soldiers from Asia and Africa who died on the war front as part of the British Army.
When General Colin Powell was asked about the number of Iraqi people who were slaughtered by Americans in the 1991 “Desert Storm” terror campaign and he said, “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in.” and the number was 200,000 people!
When motherhood is naturalized and glorified to such an extent that choosing to not be a mother is seen as a sin and a moral downfall of the highest order, to be punished by being outcast or even dead.
The hegemony of heteronormativity is a relatively recent phenomenon if one were to look at older cultures and traditions where gender fluidity and sexuality spectrums have always been recognized. The domination of the feminine and masculine stereotypes gradually made non-binary spaces smaller and more difficult to access.
It is interesting to note that even within the queer community there is inequality. One hardly hears of lesbians or asexuals as much as one does of gays. One rarely sees queer women in drag or telling people how to dress while one sees queer men doing it on primetime TV.
In recent years the efforts of the LGBTQI community have paid off and the stigma has reduced in many ways. Their increasing visibility and solidarity has seen the system is working to bring them ‘back into the fold’ so to speak.
The increase in the number of countries legalizing marriage is a case in point. IN the last decade over 30 countries (including Nepal) have passed laws that allow non heterosexual couples to be ‘joined in holy matrimony.’
Of course one would want to question if this ‘holy matrimony’ is a good thing even for heterosexuals and I worry that in all this celebration of gay marriage we have lost out on the chance for heterosexuals to escape those binds! (Not that I want to rain on anyone’s parade.)
All of us are working in our own ways to break the iron grip of the hegemon—whether we want access to safe abortion, we want to stop trafficking for sex work, prevent child marriages, give everyone access to sex education, accept non heterosexual individuals and relationships or integrate people living with disabilities.
What we are all trying to do is question the ‘normal’ or the normative frameworks and step back when we are told this is how it is and ask ‘but why?’
We all want to change things from the way we have forever been told is the right way, the best way, the only way.
Since the hegemon is the power that benefits most from the existing world system, the hegemon has the greatest stake in keeping that system functioning.
As this blogger says “Over time, we become what we do. The longer we accommodate injustice, the better we become at accommodation. This allows those closest to the hegemon to dictate the terms of our resistance in relations contained within concentric circles spreading away from the center of power.”
In feminist terms, the ‘personal is political’ refers to the theory that personal problems are political problems, which basically means that many of the personal problems women experience in their lives are not their fault, but are the result of systematic oppression.
According to the blog Feminism 101, “the theory that women are not to blame for their bad situations is crucial here because women have always been told that they are unhappy or faring badly in life because they are stupid, weak, mad, hysterical, having a period, pregnant, frigid, over-sexed, asking for it etc. The personal is political proposes that women are in bad situations because they experience gendered oppression and massive structural inequalities.”
The world has seen every so often a gathering of voices and a surge in political discourse around so many issues where the political decisions had deep personal repercussions—not only in how one led one’s life, but even in whether one’s life was in danger from one’s choices.
We have seen this in the past with the movements against apartheid, for abolition of slavery, for the rights of workers. We have seen this recently with the campaigns for gay rights, including gay marriage and equal civil rights and liberties. We have seen the Occupy movement where the politics of financial policies led to ruin for the 99% and whose personal lives were deeply affected. We can see this now when the push back against safe abortion access is taking place at every level.
With the gay rights movement there has been an increasing emphasis on ‘coming out’ and perhaps it is time for more women to also ‘come out’ and speak about the abortions they have had or needed to have.
Often women question the need to share these personal details, but questioning these in public helps to break years of silence and stigma, and create support for other women who might be in similar situations.
Dr. Darcy Sterling writes about the advantages of coming out in this article published in the Huffington Post, “You do not live in isolation from the world. You have a fundamental obligation (as we all do) to make this world a safer place for the youth of our planet. Your personal choice to come out has a larger implication: It’s a political statement. So if you can’t find the strength to do it for yourself, do it for the kid in Tennessee who sees no “normal” role model of gay life because… so many people value “privacy” above social obligation.”
Akiba Solomon states in her thoughtful piece, “While considering the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I’ve been thinking about Angela Davis’s 1988 essay “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired.”
In it, she wrote, “Politics do not stand in polar opposition to our lives. Whether we desire it or not, they permeate our existence, insinuating themselves into the most private spaces of our lives
Privacy does matter. Yet, within these private stories lies the ammunition we need to break free from years of systematic oppression.
The stories of women who either continued their unwanted pregnancy for fear of punishment, or risked their lives to terminate one, or fought hard to find safe abortion will reveal the several nuanced barriers that have been
deliberately placed over the years through political, religious and patriarchal systems.
So maybe it is time for all of us to come out!! All of us who do not fit in with the stereotypical ideal that is dictated to us and who do not want to cut off parts of ourselves in order to fit into the moulds created by thousands of years of feudal, patriarchal religious and cultural systems.
Maybe someday we can all be loud and proud no matter what our identity and finally we can escape the confines of the prison of our birth and be who we aremeant to be!
“Sweet Home Alabama, Where the skies are so blue, Sweet Home Alabama, Lord, I’m coming home to you.”
This song is so universally popular that my school friend from India has this as her ringtone. Also, I have spent the last two decades working on women’s right to safe abortion.
So yeah, for both those reasons, I have a rather strong opinion on what Alabama just tried to do to its women.
It made me think about the long history and the politics which created this song.
Historically, African Americans were brought to Alabama as slaves, in greatest numbers in the cotton-producing plantation region. This region remains predominantly African American, where many freedmen settled to work at agriculture after the Civil War.
The Selma to Montgomery marches, led by Martin Luther King Jr, were three protest marches, held in 1965, along the highway from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery. These were organized by nonviolent activists to demonstrate the desire of African-American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote, in defiance of segregationist repression, and were part of a broader voting rights movement underway in Selma and throughout the American South.
Then in 1972 a group of youngsters set up a band and named it Lynryd Skynryd after their PE teacher who had punished one of them for having long hair. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was one of their most popular songs ever. The details of the political interpretations can be found here if you want to know more but what is interesting is that this song belongs to a genre known as Southern Rock.
As a cultural formation, southern rock bands not only demonstrated progressive racial views, they also demonstrated progressive political views through the lyrics and subjects of their songs, as well as by actively participating in the 1976 presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter.
WHAT WE SEE TODAY BRINGS IN THE HETERO-PATRIARCHY, THE RELIGIOUS CONSERVATISM, WHITE SUPREMACISM, THE NEO-LIBERAL GLOBALIZATION AND ALSO THE CRIMINALIZATION OF POVERTY.
The cultural form of southern rock music is political in that many songs addressed social issues like racial injustice, poverty, gun control, domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse.
These inclinations towards liberal politics went against the political trend being set by many white southerners who increasingly supported the more conservative Republican Party in the post-civil rights South. This political realignment has been described as “the legacy of the Civil Rights Acts,” and resulted in southern whites flocking to the Republican Party, which actively appealed to conservative southerners dismayed by the advancements of racial integration.
It is not surprising that a generation later it is a Governor from Alabama who has fired the opening salvo in what is probably a larger strategy to challenge Roe vs Wade (the law which allows women to seek abortions in the USA).
It is also not surprising, given the two-faced hypocrisy of most politicians, that the day after signing this abortion ban bill, and stating that “every life is precious and every life is a sacred gift from God”, the Governor will be returning one of these ‘gifts’ to God by overseeing the execution of a man on death row (kind of like a Christmas gift you didn’t really want to keep. Hey, God, can I get a credit voucher on this one?).
Clearly ‘every life’ has a different meaning depending on which side of the tracks you find yourself!
What we are seeing here today is the coming together of many layers of oppression. The word ‘Kyriarchy’ was coined by Elisabeth Fiorenza to explain a complex system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression. This brings in the hetero-patriarchy, the religious conservatism, white supremacism, the neo-liberal globalization and also the criminalization of poverty.
Alabama also has a historical connection with other violations of the rights of women and vulnerable people. James Marion Sims studied medicine in Alabama and is known as the “Father of Gynaecology” and one of his contributions includes the surgical technique for repairing the bladder which has been damaged by prolonged labour. His statues in NYC and other places are finally being pulled down since it is known that he ‘perfected’ those techniques named after him by experimenting, repeatedly, on slave women (one of whom was 18 years old), without anaesthesia, because he believed that ‘these women feel no pain.’
Let us also not forget the Tuskegee Trials, also from Alabama, where experimental drugs to treat syphilis were tested on former plantation workers and then continued even after penicillin was discovered and known to cure the condition.
“Philip Alston, whose job takes him around the planet to look at conditions of extreme poverty, said some of the things he saw in parts of Alabama so-called Black Belt, particularly in regard to sewage disposal, were unprecedented in the West. People in the region frequently suffer from E. Coli and hookworm, a disease associated with extreme povertyand which was thought to have been eradicated in the US more than 100 years ago but which was recently found to persist in pockets of Lowndes County, located just20 miles from the state capital, Montgomery, where many residents are too poor to afford a septic system andmake their own sewer linesusing PVC piping.”
Here is a quote from a counsellor from the State: “I just spoke with a woman who needs help raising money for an abortion. She has two children and no job. Medicaid will only pay for her medical care if she carries to term. She has no TV to sell, so she’s been selling her children’s toys. Do you know anyone who can help,” she asked. The woman needed $75.
What is laughable is that some media houses are stating that this proposed Bill is actually meant toreduce racism and poverty!
“Self-styled progressives have all the Handmaid’s Tale memes and punchy tweets to suggest that the Alabama measure is great step back for womankind. But, in fact, the new law pushes back against racism and sexism by rejecting the defeatist notion that there is only room in modern society for selected unborn lives to be afforded the right to life…… Alabama shows that black mothers make up the majority of the abortion industry’s business in the state. Abortion supporters would exacerbate this situation, making abortion access easier for minority mothers in Alabama, who are likely to be poor. This essentially sends the message that society has nothing to offer her child should she choose bring it into the world, so she might as well abort it. …..Far from being cruel and oppressive, the bill’s message to mothers is one of freedom, that they need not give up their motherhood because life is difficult. A mother deserves better than having to make the gruesome choice between her child and her dreams.”
Uh….yeah, exactly what we are saying except we recognize that women are human beings with dreams, aspirations and ambitions and should not be forced to give up on their dreams for compulsory motherhood.
In a state that ranks among the top ten in poverty, illiteracy, maternal mortality and infant mortality, while also banning contraception, it is indeed baffling to understand how the ban on abortion is going to ‘push back against racism and sexism.’
WHAT IS LAUGHABLE IS THAT SOME MEDIA HOUSES ARE STATING THAT THIS PROPOSED BILL IS ACTUALLY MEANT TO REDUCE RACISM AND POVERTY!
India’s Minister for Health and Family Planning spoke at the World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974 where his statement that “development is the best contraceptive”was widely quoted. In a recent statement, he says “I must admit that 20 years later, I am inclined to reverse this, and my position now is that contraception is the best development.”
But for the residents of Alabama, USA, it is a no-win situation, since they are getting neither contraception nor development! Now the future holds a scenario where they cannot get safe abortions either.
We have evidence from so many countries, over so many decades, that has shown repeatedly and conclusively, that banning abortions does not stop abortions, it only results in more unsafe abortions!
The Global Gag Rule has already set in motion a juggernaut that is likely to kill or maim millions of women and girls in so many countries across the world. Now the impact of these ridiculous and un-realistic policies will be felt by the most marginalized and vulnerable women within the US also.
In a country like Nepal, on the other side of the world from the USA, where legalization of abortion in 2002 contributed to a sharp decline in maternal mortality, which fell dramatically from 580 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1995 to 190 per 100,000 in 2013.
Whereas in Romania during the Ceausescu’s regime in 1989 when abortion was banned, the maternal death rate spiked. It then fell dramatically as soon as the ban was lifted.
How many more times does it need to be said?
As long as men and women have sex women will continue to get pregnant, despite the most perfect contraceptive use. Often even planned pregnancies can become unwanted. If pregnancy is caused by rape or incest, it is most likely to be rather unwanted. This Bill proposes to punish women for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies – as though a woman has any control over these physiological events than any man does over his sperm count or composition.
In an age when we are preparing for a colony on Mars and creating Artificial Intelligence of the most superior humanoid standards, perhaps we need to be taking a look at Natural Stupidity and sending most politicians away from our planet.
Until then, here is a George Carlin video I would like to leave you with because he said it sharp and clear. “God is the leading cause of death! And these laws are not pro-life—they are anti-woman.”
In much the same way as the Oral Birth Control Pill was either vilified or seen as the magic bullet, depending on which side of the uterus you stood, the Oral Medical Abortion Pills are receiving similar, almost predictable reactions.
Women’s rights groups and women themselves are hailing it, quite rightly, as the next best thing since the Oral Birth Control Pill, while almost everyone else in power, (united as always when faced with anything to do with women’s rights), have denigrated it, created moral panic over it and tried to prevent physical access by banning it and policing it.
At a meeting, I had the privilege of participating in last month, a group of truly badass and amazing women’s rights activists and their supporters engaged in some incredible politically sharp and subversive dialogues and discussions around the latest villain of the drama around women’s sexual lives—the Self- Managed Abortions.
This group defined ‘self –managed’ as running the whole gamut from self- procured (online, from a chemist, through a hotline), to self- administered (taken it on their own in absence of formal system supervision), to self- conducting the actual abortion process (managing the bleeding, the products and their disposal).
One of the groups said that they hoped a day would come when every home would have a bottle of Misoprostol pills in the medicine cabinet, right next to the paracetamol or the antacids or the Bandaids, because that is truly the reality of a woman’s life.
Sex happens and pregnancy isn’t always a wanted outcome.
We tried to unpack the various reasons that the ‘system’ feels so threatened by women seeking to manage their own fertility and reproductive autonomy.
The answer, not surprisingly, always comes down to the patriarchy and its need to control women. Women’s mobility, education opportunities, employment and earning capacity, safety concerns, barriers to financial security have all been constructed carefully and elaborately over the centuries to control the most fragile and yet the most powerful notion of them all—the woman should have sex only with whom ‘they’ allow her to and only when‘they’ allow her to.
That is why marriage as an institution is construed as such a water-shed evet in a woman’s life. The best day of her life.Apparently. To be eclipsed only by the day she becomes a mother. Apparently.
There is no genuine fulfillment a woman can feel through any other achievement which may require intellectual or other skills besides fertility. Such a completing her thesis, or flying a plane or becoming Prime Minister or writing the code for NASA’s rockets.
The laws that are created are also geared towards this aim. Thus having sex before marriage has such a heavy social price on it that virginity testing is done, unwed mothers are shamed, their children are considered illegitimate and ‘honor killings’ are justified.
So what it comes down to is this: A woman cannot say ‘yes’ before marriage, even if she is above 18 and can vote or stand for elections, or drink, or drive or donate organs.
But once a woman is married in fact she cannot say ‘no’ to her husband and must always be available for sex. At least if you live in one of the countries which do not criminalize marital rape. (Such as Afghanistan, Congo, India, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia). Many of these countries also top the list for these where girls are being married off as children and there is no sex education in school. And after all that compulsory/ forced sex if there are no children, or no sons, that woman is again at risk of being abandoned, beaten up or subjected to social stigma.
If for some reason the woman is no longer married, because she is divorced, the husband left her, she left him, she is widowed etc then once again society will shame her and blame her for the relationship breakdown, bringing bad luck to the man and causing his death, and then will go further and shame her and/or punish her for still wanting to have a sexual life.
I was at a workshop recently where I was moderating a panel which had a representative of an NGO that works with single and abandoned women. The participants at this workshop were around 80 women and some men from rural and grassroots NGOs across the state. As the panel moderator I asked the audience casually why we didn’t have anyone from the NGO that works with single and abandoned men. They all erupted with laughter. Another panellist worked with a sex workers’ self- help group. Again I asked them what about sex worker clients’ self-help group. And the last panellist was from an NGO working for widows and this time when I asked the question about NGOs working with widowers, there was silence.
They understood the point that was being made and the realization that all these groups needed to be set up mainly to support women who were for any reason outside of the accepted sexual relationships that a woman can or is allowed to have in a patriarchal society.
We heard from our panellists the stories of a widow needing an abortion and being raped by the moneylender before he gave her the loan to pay for the service in the private sector. We heard of women who go to work as farm labour being encouraged to have a hysterectomy so that they won’t get pregnant when the contractor rapes them. As he was bound to.
We heard stories of sex workers being kicked by the police, on their stomach, when pregnant, because why the &%*# would a sex worker want to be a mother?
It is such chilling and infuriating stories that remind me every single day just how vital and absolutely critical our work is in advocating for safe abortion as a woman’s right.
Just like the oral pill one generation ago, this pill also has the power to disrupt the narrative and subvert the hegemonic control of the patriarchy on women’s sexual and reproductive lives.
So here is our mantra for the new age: Keep Calm and Take the Medical Abortion Pill !
For more on the Birth Control Pill and the moral, religious, medical dimensions read here
For the W.H.O Guidance of Safe Abortion Regimes and Services read here
It was one of those rare, almost ethereal, quiet and slow afternoons on a weekend and I was reading something which made me completely forget where I was (definitely not in Mumbai or even India or even this planet maybe).
I had lost all sense of the time too till the Earth made one of those magical turns and it suddenly became too dark to read.
I shook my head and swam out of the book, reluctantly re-entering the real world and thought to myself ‘Oh this book was just so absorbing!’
And as I said those words, it occurred to me that this would go both ways! I want to be absorbed into a book of course but more than that I think I want to absorb books.
I want them to enter through my skin by osmosis and swim in my blood. I want them to find their way into my lungs and percolate through my alveoli and attach themselves to the oxygen molecules. I want them to become a part of every cell, holding my atoms together with words, with strings of words, with thoughts of words, with the feelings brought on by words.
By these crazy made up symbols that move across pages made of dead trees, and magically say things like ‘epiphany’ or ‘ethereal’ or ‘petrichor’ or ‘cinnamon’ and some synapse goes off in my brain and I see the word –not only as letters but also as a thought and a concept and even a smell.
It is that sense of knowing and being that makes reading so addictive.
I want to drink my books through my eyes but I also want to swallow them so that I can digest them slowly over days, moths, years and decades. Bringing back a verse from a poem, rolling my tongue around a beautiful phrase or a poignant line…….letting my mind’s eye gaze upon the first sighting of Kim on the zamzamah in Lahore while also seeing him walking up the Himalayas with his Lama.
I want to listen to the books as they sigh against me when I turn the page, releasing a few motes of dust mixed with ink molecules, maybe the aroma of a few dead trees but mostly the spell of words, which weaves itself into my very fabric.
That sigh is from Jo in Little Women as she struggles over her writing in the attic, it is from the freckled face of Anne with an E as she looks at her new home under the green gables, it comes forth from the lips of every exasperated young woman in Georgette Heyer’s books. It also comes from the languorous chapters in the Camel Bookmobile, or the entire book Everyone Loves a Good Drought, or what Arthur Dent does when faced once again with the destruction of the Earth by Vogons.
All those sighs are catalogued somewhere in my synapses and each one brings forth the shadows and memories of the others. Holding hands, all the sighs sit in a circle around a crackling bonfire of darkness.
The written word leaps up and creates a small diorama in my head.
Stage directions: Place furniture there. Ok. Lights here, this way. Hmm. This curtain is drawn, that cushion is just so, glass of water besides her and altogether now…..sigh….
Anything and everything from poetry, to science fiction to romance to murder mysteries. Everything written in English under the Sun is all an alchemy of a mere 26 letters.
Does your brain not reel under the impact of that fact??
The entire works (in English of course) of Jules Verne, HG Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arundhati Roy, Thomas Hardy, Devdutt Pattnaik, Enid Blyton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Bingham, Douglas Adams, George Orwell, whatever you have ever read about– including your geography and history textbooks, even the explanation of the discovery of DNA and the theory of evolution, they are ALL just a mix and match playlist of 26 letters only!
Undoubtedly the loss is ours if we do not read other languages but my goodness the richness of it all! The oceans and oceans of words and thoughts and plots and ideas and facts and concepts and ideologies and politics and hegemony and subversion and everything really….and we can barely hold a few drops in our palm and drink from them.
How many in a lifetime? Too less, too less.
Holding the pages, turning, reading with eyes, too slow, too little.
What a joy it would be to sink in a lake of words, absorb it all through my skin and have it all inside me! Maybe I would glow with words. Maybe I would be rendered speechless. Maybe I would not be able to function at all from having to digest it all—synapse flashes to Antoine de Saint Exupery’s Little Prince and his drawing of the boa constrictor digesting an elephant. That drawing gets mistaken for a hat. The man who mistook his wife for a hat is a famous book about how we think and understand languages….and there we go down a stream of consciousness.
A string of words goes over one limb, one more unfortunate weary of breath, rashly importunate gone to her death, while a small wave of words come over another ‘twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gymble in the wabe……and when you turn your head a bit to the right you can hear/see/feel Arundhati Roy tell us in The God of Small Things that “the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. That is their mystery and their magic.”
And it makes you hum, but then you turn to your left and something else swishes against you and makes you smile. Isaac Asimov says in a snark that “people who think they know everything are so annoying to those of us who do.”
Yes, words are all we have.
Whether they are chanted as Vedas, distributed on pamphlets for the Revolution, written on notes passed in class, sent by sign language, or read through Braille.
This is what finally truly distinguishes us from the animals and allows us to express imagination and fear, memories and dreams, sorrow and happiness.
Even the most enlightened men and women eventually needed to use words to share their insights, their wisdom their suggestions and guidance.
But when words leave you as spoken or written they no longer remain yours. They shape –shift and undergo oxidation, denaturation, fusion and fission. Their molecules shift and their bonds may loosen or twist altogether.
They are then absorbed by the readers and listeners in small digested pieces that they can manage and assimilate and end up forming completely different word molecules and chains inside those people.
This is why the so called ‘word of God’ has led to so many conflicts and mis- interpretations and re –interpretations.
Because that is all the listener/ reader can do.
Just manage an approximation of what was inside the speaker or writer’s head, as seen from the perspective and the lens of their own completely different context and DNA and lives and atoms.
Perhaps if we could sink into a lake of words and absorb them we would know better…
Maybe this is why music has such a universal appeal because something inside us resonates to the vibrations, without words to confuse the meaning, without words coming in the way.
We can listen to a flute and feel the breeze by the river banks without being told, we can listen to the violin or an orchestra and understand the birth of galaxies and the death of a supernova and the mystery of life without any words at all.
When I saw the scene in Avatar where the scientist (Sigourney Weaver) finally gets uploaded into the tree matrix or when the girl in the Silence in the Library in Doctor Who has her consciousness transferred into an almost infinite library….wow !
Waves of water wind and light lap around me as I am absorbed into all the books.
Every story ever told, every story still to be told.
( Re-posting this because an event has been planned around Sherlock Holmes –the cases, the magic, the fandom !! It will be held on 9th Feb in Bandra, Mumbai. If any of you is interested–Come, if convenient. If inconvenient, come anyway :))
The joy of relishing a cracking good series or movie or book and becoming a super fan is exceeded only by having a friend or family member join the fandom with as much enthusiasm!
We saw the latest Sherlock TV series again this month after some years. #sherlock But seeing it with my daughter was like a journey of re- discovery as we saw the old tropes and jokes and plot twists from her eyes and we remembered why we had loved it so much. Every note of the tune that plays when the ‘games afoot’, every time Watson gets befuddled and annoyed, ever time Hudson comes in with tea and a yoo-hoo and every single time Sherlock calls Greg by some other name was something to look out for and delight in once again.
Not in sir Arthur Conan Doyle wildest dreams could he have imagined that the stories he wrote in the late 1880s would be not only alive in 2018 but in this awesome updated avatar full of smartphones and blogs and jokes about ‘no we are not together.’
As every Sherlock fan knows, the original stories of the incredibly clever detective were inspired by a Scottish surgeon Joseph Bell. In his childhood, his mother would always entertain him with fabulous stories which seemed to him more vivid and enchanting than his actual life– which included an alcoholic father and much bullying in school.
As a medical student he was chosen by Joseph Bell to be his assistant and thus had the opportunity to observe his methods of deduction and diagnosis very closely. He was thus the real life Watson to his Sherlock inspiration (who he initially wanted to name Sherringford but fortunately did not!!) (Fans –I am sure you get the reference to that name in the new series! )
Doyle was also a spiritualist and despite having been raised Catholic he broke away from it soon after becoming a doctor. In fact it was in order to concentrate on spiritualism that he decided to kill Sherlock after 6 years of writing about him.
Even in the days of the original writing 150 years ago without any Twitter and shippers and fan clubs, the readers had protested so vehemently at the death of Sherlock at the Reichenbach falls that they wrote a deluge of letters to the newspapers. The publishers then put tremendous pressure on Doyle thus forcing him to write a sequel where Sherlock is seen to have miraculously survived the fall.
In fact the fictional address 221B, Baker Street receives so much post from fans that the post office has actually designated a separate service for it and there is a blue plaque although the specific flat does not even exist!
In the 1980s we saw the first televised version on Indian TV with the inimitable Jeremy Brett, which stayed true to the original with hansom cabs, tall hats, London fog and all. In those days before any way of recording and re- seeing shows, we waited with anticipation every week while it was being aired and delighted in the details from the books come alive. Jeremy played him to perfection with the disdain, the pipe, the drugs, the expression of a man with way beyond average intelligence barely tolerating the dumb masses and the unbearable dull routine of daily existence.
We thought then that he was the world’s best Sherlock possible.
Until of course Benedict Cumberbatch came along some years ago and swept us off our feet with a pitch perfect balance between detached brilliance yet the capacity for showing glimpses of a man capable of a deep (though imperfect but eventually redeeming) friendship. Of course Steven Moffatt and Mike Gatiss get as much credit for the character development and for the perfect casting of Watson and some brilliant ( though flawed) episodes and scenes.( spoilers ahead).
Not just ordinary people but literary giants like Oscar Wilde, Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse were fans (with some people suggesting that Bertie and Jeeves were themselves a spin off)
Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry did a brilliant turn as Wooster and Jeeves in a TV series.
Stephen Fry later played Mycroft in a Sherlock film and Hugh Laurie went on to play House. For those who notice. (Obviously! Keep up will you?) #obviously House and Wilson are a thinly veiled Holmes and Watson. (Holmes-Homes-House). And although House M.D. is a US TV series, Hugh Laurie is as British as they come.
Is it any wonder that House was spectacularly popular? It is basically a hospital based spin off of Sherlock. With Cuddy possibly as Mycroft and the three ducklings being Lestrade, Hudson and Molly Hooper.
Perhaps Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi has similar shades, given his brilliance and erratic behaviour, inevitable boredom, Clara as Watson and Missy as Moriarty. Maybe its a formula that just works across universes.
The latest Dirk Gently season has a Sheriff Sherlock Hobbes, who is bored in the dull ‘Bergsberg’ and instantly delights in the concept that everything is connected and proceeds to join them on the search for the boy. The games afoot.
Since then may spinoffs have been written and some have done really well. The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie B King is a cracking good beginning of a series which starts off after Sherlock has retired to the countryside. It has an amazing character of a young girl who is the apprentice and who eventually gets Sherlock out of retirement. For inexplicably idiotic reasons, Hollywood took that story and made it into a film with a young boy and older Sherlock, thereby missing the entire ethos of the story by a few galaxies and also reminding us that Hollywood is no place for women !
Some of the other spin offs I have enjoyed are the Mandala of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock goes to Japan. Giles Brandeth has also written a series that I haven’t read so far, but hopefully will not disappoint.
Then there were the Sherlock films with everyone’s favourite bad boy Robert Downey Jr plying the great detective with a touch of flamboyance and a wild sense of humour. Casting Jude Law as Watson also gave much potential for on screen bromance/ gay sexual tensions between and of course Stephen Fry as Mycroft was a brilliant touch.
The only grouse I have against the re-boot is that it is still so white. Sally Donovan is coloured but literally no one else is! There was ample potential for Mrs Hudson or Molly to be of Indian origin (A landlady and a doctor in UK—I mean come on!) and Watson or Lestrade or even Mary to be Caribbean or Asian. The US TV series does have a female Watson, so maybe there is hope.
After my renewed interest in Sherlock I was browsing a few fan sites recently. Although I knew of the ‘Superwholock’ fandom from my daughters, I had no idea of the sheer passion, wild imagination, madness, obsession and the range of involvement of the fandom and the ‘shippers’. They have Pinterest pages, wiki sites, fanfiction, deathfic, Johnlock fic, paintings, podcasts, YouTube readings, YouTube videos…it’s all a bit overwhelming! And this is without counting the transgender JohnLock fiction.#johnlockfic
The obsession of the fans even leads to situations where they want leading psychiatrists to diagnose whether Sherlock had Asperger’s and if he really is a high functioning sociopath. Only to be told ( to their utter horror!) by the bewildered specialist that “well….who knows? I mean Sherlock isn’t real is he??”
As I got sucked into a veritable hurricane of words on the fan site, I eventually ended up reading this fanfic story that every site said was a rite of passage if you were a true fan.So I thought ok, cool let me check it out in my lunch break, should be fun. Well, I was weeping within 2 minutes into it and eventually so traumatized by the end that I had to go back and read it twice to get it out of my system. (Ok, ok I confess….maybe it was 12 times…. but that was a week ago and it’s still there I my head).
“He’s slyly inserted himself into all my memories as if he had been there all along. He’s at school with me, at home, in the park….”
The rest of the day and all the problems seemed ridiculously trivial in comparison. Sigh…So you have been warned but if you think you are brave enough or crazy enough to be a true fan, you don’t have a choice. Here it is. https://archiveofourown.org/works/210785
Welcome to 2019! What a wonderful time it is to be alive!
Scientific progress is almost in the realms of sci-fi with mission to Mars, Sophia the robot being granted citizenship of UAE, gene edited three parent CRISPR babies and such exciting progress!
Unless of course you are a woman.
In which case you are still living in the 15th century or even further back, perhaps in a cave.
You are chained to the domestic sphere by your uncontrolled fertility, you are at constant risk of predators and all you are allowed is to entertain yourself with the shadows on your wall. And maybe some cave art drawn using your menstrual blood.
Plato’s cave is an allegory in which he imagines a cave with prisoners in it who can only see shadows projected on the wall and think that it is the reality. One day one of them escapes, goes out and sees the multi- colour, 3 D reality and is shocked. She comes back to tell the others but they don’t believe her and would rather stay in their comfort zone of the shadows on the wall.
So coming back to the issue at hand ( and let us gloss over the obvious absurdity of organized religion –a matter for discussion on another day!) and see what happened with the Sabrimala Temple.
Hinduism apparently regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals. But while most Hindu temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, the Sabarimala temple is unusual in that it was one of the few that did not allow women in a broad age group to enter at all.
Hindu devotees say that the ban on women entering Sabarimala is not about menstruation alone – it is also in keeping with the wish of the deity who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.
Every year, millions of male devotees trek up a steep hill, often barefoot, to visit the shrine. They also undertake a rigorous 41-day fast, abstaining from smoking, alcohol, meat, sex and contact with menstruating women before they begin the journey.
So what is the legend of Lord Ayappa?
Apparently he was born out of a union between two male gods which gave him the ability to defeat a she-demon who had been unstoppable until then. Upon defeating her, it was revealed that she was really a young woman who had been cursed to live the life of a demon.
She fell in love with him and asked him to marry her, but he refused, saying he was destined to go into the forest and answer the prayers of his devotees. She persisted, so he said he would marry her the day new devotees stopped coming to seek his blessings.
That never happened.
The legend says that she waits for him at a second temple, which lies on the way to the main Sabarimala shrine. Women do not visit either temple – the belief is that to do so would insult both the deity and the sacrifice of the woman who loved him.
So in all this chaos and commotion, no one has focussed on the fact that Lord Ayyappan was born of the union of Vishnu in the form of the beautiful woman Mohini and Shiva. This can been read as an epic moment for fluid gender identity and homosexual union.
Also women have apparently stayed out voluntarily since everyone who has faith in such things believes that it would affect both their own energies and interfere with the sexual energies of the male devotees.
Who would want to do that after all?! For all we know there is some Viagra vibe in that temple that makes the devotees so worried about letting women in.
Or maybe they worship homosexual unions.
Who really knows?!
More importantly, why do we care??
The Supreme Court recently struck down a rule that disallowed girls and women in the 10-50 age group from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The bench in a 4-1 verdict said the temple rule violated their right to equality and right to worship.
Justice DY Chandrachud termed the custom as a form of “untouchability” which cannot be allowed under the Constitution. “Article 17 certainly applies to untouchability practices in relation to lower castes, but it will also apply to the systemic humiliation, exclusion and subjugation faced by women. Prejudice against women based on notions of impurity and pollution associated with menstruation is a symbol of exclusion. The social exclusion of women based on menstrual status is a form of untouchability which is an anathema to constitutional values.”
So far so good.
As a result of this, menstruation is currently front page news in a country where the topic is usually considered so shameful that women who use cloth rarely dry it out in the sun and suffer from fungal infection while those who buy sanitary napkins are given black or brown bags so that, heaven forbid, some man on the street should not recognize the packet of that and have their sexual energy fly away.
Why just India? Even globally the stigma around menstruation is amplified. When Instagram took down a photo posted by Rupi Kaur showing period stains on her clothes, this was her response:
“I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.”
Abortion stigma is not just some attitudes we can shrug off. It can actually kill you as Tulasi Shahi from Nepal found out when she died after being bitten by a poisonous snake while staying in a shed where she was required to sleep during her period.
My daughter’s biology textbook said that ‘menstrual blood was the tears of a non- pregnant uterus.’
Poetic perhaps but utterly ridiculous in a science text book. Not to mention the implication that women are only child bearing machines and any failure to do leads to tears.
Then there is the entire mythology created around PMS. Yes it is real. Yes some women have it bad. Yes, they can continue to function like responsible highly skilled professionals through it all, thank you very much.
Because sometimes it is easier to blame PMS than accept the reality 🙂
There is finally the blessed menopause which frees women from more than just periods 😛
Historians tell us that even in the western cultures, menstruating women were associated with magic and sorcery. Apparently the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote that menstruating women could stop hail storms and lightning, as well as kill bees, dim mirrors and rust weapons just by looking at them.
Isn’t it amazing that none of these quotes and words of wisdom are ever from women? You know. The humans who actually menstruate??
So here is a funny video where some more mansplaining is being done but in a wicked takedown way. Enjoy!
In 2017 I decided to try and see if I could keep to a schedule of posting one blog per week. I actually managed!! Encouraged by that I decided to continue the same pace in 2018….and I managed!! Till Dec when I dropped the ball rather completely……but, I must explain here that I hopped to no less than 11 cities in 6 weeks between November and mid December….so….
Here is a make- up post with the highlights of my 2018 🙂
My sister’s first solo art exhibition in Phoenix, Arizona.
And then we took part in an anti-gun rally in the city.
Shopping for party props with my nephew who wanted me to buy gangsta outfits cos he thinks they suit me 😛
A lovely gift for my birthday from some lovely young ladies I know.
This was the year I discovered Sherlock fanfics and got Sherlocked!!
But I also managed to read a lot of other books! And gathered more than I could possibly read….The tottering bedside pile is testimony….
Travels took me to Asia, Africa and Europe.
A short trip to Chennai to meet a soul sister…..this bookcase photo is specially for you gobblefunkist !!
As we grow older, many more girls-only trips are being planned and undertaken. Paris was amazing as ever and the best part was spending time with my awesome cousin and seeing Dali’s exhibition of his surreal sculpture and knowing that he was a fan of Alice too!
Yum food was eaten, festivals were celebrated.
Sunsets were enjoyed and rain and rainbows too.
Had a picnic fit for a queen with a school friend in Dar-es-Salaam ! It is amazing that although we met after 30 years, not just her but her entire family felt like family too.
Conferences and workshops attended and organized. We discussed safe abortion rights, unpacked the patriarchy and understood bioethics and the politics behind health issues.
Prayed to the internet and feminism on the occasion of Dussehra.
Of course it wasn’t all fun and roses but seeing other people’s problems puts one’s own in perspective!
Tried on temporary tattoos as prep for a permanent one….maybe.
And finally as Forrest Gump’s mum told him—life is a box of chocolates—you never know what you are going to get!
On that philosophical note, I bid goodbye to 2018 and get ready for 2019.
Wishing all of you a fulfilling and healthy year ahead !!!
Since it is sort of traditional when December starts, to look back on the year that has been and make lists for the best of, the worst of and what have you ( while silently panicking that the year has swept by so ridiculously fast….)
So I thought I would share with you a list of some of the blogs that I have been following. I don’t always get to reads every single post that they share but I enjoy them all enough to seek them out when I have down time or save or share something I really like once in a while.
If you like the sound of any of them, do subscribe!
More readers are the oxygen in the writer’s bloodstream !
The Blogess : Reading Jennifer Lawson is a roller coaster ride! She discusses mental health issues, her childhood with a taxidermist father, the general insanity of her conversations with her cat, her beleaguered husband, it’s a free for all fun ride!
Also read her hilarious book “Let’s Pretend this never Happened.”
Brainpickings: This is the most remarkable and magnificent blog I have ever come across. Thank you Maria Popova for this labour of love and thanks to my sister for introducing me to it. Simply awesome trbute to wirds, readering, writing and everything in between.
Feminism in India is another bold ad radical blog with a phenomenal range of issues and perspectives.
Gobbelfunkist is how I made my first cyber friend! Never seen each other but we are soul sisters! I like her very direct, frank and genuine posts/ rants/ thoughts. There is no sugar coating. There is a lot of vulnerability. It is very real and a breath of fresh air. I like it!
Jabberwock : of course the name attracted me right away and then this by-line:”It seems very pretty,” she said, “but it’s rather hard to understand.”
Poem a Day This lovely site send me a poem everyday in my email. Some of them linger on in my mind for a very long time. One I still think of once in a while is Whales in Manhattan. It has that rare task that falls to poetry, of giving you more to think between the lines and to hear the unspoken bits, but it also connects with the very real tragedy of our times when we have polluted the seas to such an extent that the beautiful whales have been left with few places they can live in peace.
Gretchen Rubin wrote a book called the Happiness Project. I enjoyed it although of course most such books are really re-wordings of similar insights into the few great truths of life. But she does good book recs also and in general it is different and enjoyable while also very well researched.
Agents of Ishq is a radically different and fabulous blog about love and se and all such tins but from a very very desi angle! Check it out and you won’t regret it !
Discover is a beautiful blog whose name says it all.