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No milk for the baby

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I was waiting for my bus to college.

It was a week ago. It’s a December afternoon. And it’s winter. I have always hated winters in Chennai. It is generally as warm as it is during summers with occasional cool breeze. And that afternoon, it recorded 30 degrees on the Celsius scale.

The Vadapalani temple is 5 minutes north from where I live. And it is 100 meters from the east mada of this temple that I had to board a bus to college. The average teenager would find this place vapid. Nothing glamorous about it. It was on a few days grossly overcrowded. Unsanitary even.

Everything around here is a little backward in time. The place is just a result of the fraudulent cosmopolitan image of the post 90’s India having thrust itself on the ancient tradition refusing to make way.

The road is lined with shops selling pilgrim essentials, flowers, cheap toys, cosmetics and Made in China goods. And near the bus stop where I was standing, the ground is dug out by the electricity workers to re-lay lines. The road is still wet from the showers of the previous night. I know this place like the back of my hand; Apart from the fact I have lived here my entire life, the place has really not changed much. And on the other side of the road are shops selling jewellery, clothing and groceries. I know every shop by its name and position. Very small changes were made in the past decade; what was once ‘Vijaya Stores’ is now ‘Happy Provisions’. On the pavement, are seated the ladies selling fruits and garlic.

On a dry day, one can see the dust ascending from the roads. The dustbins are overflowing and there is a faint smell of rotten fruits in the air. I am really kind of used to the smell by now. 

Five meters from where I was standing, is the first ever restaurant of Hotel Saravana Bhavan chain; The restaurant is closed temporarily for repair works. In their car park, however was parked an Audi A6, which I presumed belonged to the manager of the hotel or the owner’s son.

It’s been ten minutes since I’ve been waiting for my bus to arrive.

Two college guys were standing beside me- one with curly hair and a bag worn so low, a black ‘Absolut Chennai’ T-shirt, skin the colour of coffee. The other guy taller and light-skinned than the first, had long hair tied to a pony. Both of them, I thought- pretentious as fuck. These were the only two ‘things’ that reminded me that the year is 2013. 2014 almost. Oh and A.D., btw.

Fifteen minutes.

Their bus arrived. I told them a silent farewell. I plugged my earphones-first into the left ear and right. ‘Keep talking’ by Pink Floyd playing. I sing along in my head…. 

”I sit in the corner, so no one will bother me…”.

 I was just looking around in total despair. I’d be late to college. Not that I had a problem with that. But I expect things to happen in my pace.

A bus. Not mine.

A crow flew from a tree on the side walk towards a bus. 25G.  The crow hit on the bus’ window. Fell down. I wasn’t sure if it died. A wheel of the bus ran over it. Sure.

There were a sizable number of people waiting for their buses. All very usual-the workers, college girls, kids with their parents.

 My mood switched from meditative to pensive. I was just staring out in to a distance, with unseeing eyes.

 From a distance, I saw a lady walking towards the bus stop with a baby on the side of her hip, held with one hand. Slowly, weakly. She was thin and dark, her hair brown from the heat. It’s certainly been a while since she’d brushed or oiled her hair. Her sari was a faded blue, the blouse-a crimson. The baby was gorgeous and must’ve been around six months old, dressed in a skirt and a blouse too big for her. She came walking towards me. Looked at me, prayerfully. Held out her hands to me, asking for just any money. Persuading passively, she said “I haven’t eaten in three days,”. Silence. 

Her hand which did not hold the baby went up to her tiny breasts, involuntarily “There is no milk for the baby, also.”. I suppressed a laugh. (I know where milk comes from). 

Familiar Silence. Questions flooded my head.

 Why did she choose me of all the people standing there to ask for alms from? Did I look sympathetic? I didn’t like it. Or was it just that I seemed to be looking at her?

Was the baby really hers. Clearly, she did not want a baby. It is, to me, against every logic that she wanted to have a baby. Chances are that a rag picker or an alcoholic impregnated her. Without her consent, perhaps. Maybe it was a rape. Or maybe not. Whatever be the case, she was a mother of a baby that she did not want. 

And the baby was a girl. And she did not have milk to feed the baby.

Or what if the baby was not hers at all! What if she is only carrying her around to gain sympathy. To make her situation look worse than it actually was. This would be a case of human trafficking in its primitive form.

At six months, the baby did not have milk. And at the age of three, the chances that she goes to school are slim. And if she attained puberty, how would she be able to afford sanitation? And there is also this- at this rate how strong is the probability that she attains puberty. Will she live till she is twelve? She may die. Honestly, death didn’t look like a very sad ending here.

Let’s say all goes well. What would she end up being? A sweeper? A house keeper? A Prostitute? 

The baby did not have a choice. And it was not the baby’s fault.

The knowledge that by every chance, I could have been that baby; anyone could have been that baby, stung me. Nobody ever said life is fair.

 Poverty is one thing. Poverty is a reality in a society like India. But it is other things that poverty leads to like- illiteracy, unemployment and which again in turn lead to poverty are problems of a bigger magnitude. (The vicious cycle of poverty that one would learn about in eighth grade Economics came to my mind.). With very few exceptions, poverty leads to a more severe kind of poverty.

Is charity enough?

Isn’t the system flawed entirely. Isn’t the mismanagement of resources to be blamed? 

Nature is abundant. There is enough food for everyone in the world. The hot-dog you threw away because it was cold on the inside? Not food?

Should I call myself blessed and be grateful for the things I have?

 Like what my mother says ,” No matter how hard your life gets, there are thousands that envy the life you have, the opportunities you get. “.

Or should I introspect myself on how much I’ve taken for granted? 

How well have I lived? 

How many days in my life really count? 

Is it possible for me to bring about a change? If yes, how? What kind of a change? How big?

This lady was standing next to me, still looking imploringly. I grew irate. It is not up to me to help everyone out of their difficulties.

I turned away coldly at first and then, moved away from her. My bus arrived. Twenty minutes late. “One college road” I tell the conductor,handing out a ten rupee note.

I didn’t notice the reaction on the lady’s face. Maybe she was disappointed. Disappointment, by this time should be a feeling she’s used to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Religion and India

The first instance I questioned ‘religion’ was when I was twelve. I was at a temple when I saw a statue of a lizard. Lamps were lit around the place. The main deity of the temple (which is ancient) is Lord Shiva. My aunt insisted that I folded my hands in prayer, which, of course I refused to do. But with the intervention of my mother- I had to. “I came here to worship Shivan”, I thought. “I didn’t sign up for this. I hate lizards.”.

I felt rather stupid.

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Any religion is a result of the socio-economic dynamics of a society. Hinduism is the “religion” that majority of the people in India followed and still do. The reason I’ve used quotes on the word religion here is because I don’t consider Hinduism a religion. Before proceeding into the post, it is fair that I attempt a definition of the word ‘religion’. Religion in my opinion is a way of living. Every religion has its own scriptures and deity. However, it is easy to see that all religious texts follow a blue print. Every religion has its own set of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. And all religions detail on the result of doing the dos and don’ts. (Karma, Hell, Heaven, Judgment day etc.).

The content however is characteristic to the time and region of origin of the religion. Let us consider the example of Hinduism, Hinduism is ancient. And Hinduism has its roots in India. It has a vast number of deities both male and female. Owing to to its vastness and ancientness, it can only be spoken in a “more or less” manner. Hindus worship everything from Human-beings (male, female, and transgender), cows, goats, snakes and almost every indigenous species of plant and animal. In Hinduism,’ worship’ does not have to mean gratitude or bargain. Worshipping means respecting and respect can be viewed as ‘tolerance’. Hinduism speaks subtly of ‘conservation of biodiversity’. And ‘Karma’ which literally translates as ‘deed’ is a concept whose relatively modern equivalent would be ‘as you sow, so you reap.’ Karma necessitates the doing of good.

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Other religions that found their roots in India during the B.C. s are- Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. All these, take their scriptures from Hinduism and modified to suit the period and of course have a single deity. In fact, some of the Hindus believe Buddha is one of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu. And staunch Buddhists refuse to accept this as true.

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With the Advent of the Mughals to India, when A.D. was new, came the second major religion in India-Islam. Islam of course, has its roots in the Middle-East. Later came- Christianity, which was carried by the British to India. And with the scenario changing in the politics of the country, the complexness of texts in Hinduism and the unfair hierarchical system, Hindus started taking to the other religions.

That’s pretty much the history required here.

India is certainly a country with a wide range of beliefs and religions. And it is easy to say that people of various beliefs coexist rather peaceably but for the occasional disturbances caused by a few political groups. The religious system of course is rather mature. And except in a matrimonial context, the nation is secular. To state the obvious, the religions in India (in order of majority) are-Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism. There are traces of Zoroastrianism and Judaism (though I’ve personally not been acquainted with an Indian Jew).
The object of the post is, however not transfer of statistical information as in the rise and fall of certain religions. Nor do I consider it necessary to give facts on religious distribution region to region. I’ve been noticing recently that the religions have changed in their structure and dynamics to suit the ‘today’ and this change is very evident in the urban areas of India. It is this ‘transition’ of belief that I plan to discuss here.

The people still do believe in God. But definition of God has changed. It is a universally acknowledged truth that any life-changing event alters a person’s spirituality. When something changes the life for the better, the faith in God intensifies. And a bad phase causes people to either blame God or stop believing in anything. But what could qualify as ‘life-changing’ is unique and is different from person to person. However, I’m going to try and talk about this generically.

I divide our society into three economical classes, broadly.

1. ‘Educated’ middle class and above: (The term educated is quite literal. By educated, I mean someone who has had a college education and is into a reliable vocation.) This is the class of the society which is unharmed by economical fluctuations. A financial loss is somewhat manageable, usually. A ‘difficulty’ to this section could mean a failure of relationship/marriage or death of a loved one. This is a class that takes to religion for emotional needs or just to identify oneself or find perspective. And this is also that section that has not much time for religion. Agnosticism trends high within this section of people. Some shift to more exotic religions like Taoism.

2. The poor: The definition here is again, literal. Poor here means “Money-Poor” or going for a more euphemistic term- economically-backward. I again divide this section into two: One is a group that follows a religion. Another is a group that doesn’t really have a religion. (Quite honestly, this is a section that does not follow a religion because they don’t have to.). Proselytizing is common among the poor. And proselytizing is generally from Hinduism to Christianity. This group is the target of missionaries that promise food and shelter if they’re willing to sign up for the Church and read Bible every day.

3. Middle class: Middle class here just means someone that is able to afford the basic needs without much trouble, despite not having a college degree. This section has undergone a huge change in their beliefs in the past decade. Almost every middle class Indian follows a religion. Exceptions are cases which belong to certain nihilistic movements. Definitely, finances play a major role in the mechanics of a middle-class life. And prayers are generally, aimed at having ‘enough’ or ‘ample’. This class is not stationary. There is this uncertainty associated with everything. The believers in this class stick to the scripture dutifully in the hope of improving the standing. The belief of the people under this category is also transient as a result of the lack of sureness in a situation. The middle class reacts to a failure in a few possible ways like some end up being more ‘rational’ with their beliefs, while some take to another religion that ‘calls’ them, while few stop believing. In God.

Converting is also a nuptial necessity.

Apart from personal experiences, the fact that the past decade has seen quite a large number of religious scams, have made people indifferent to religion. And also is the obvious disconnect between the metaphysics of religion and the material world is felt more intensely since the beginning new millennium.Almost everything has changed in definition. The small has reduced in size and the huge has grown bigger.The ‘new breed’ of ‘professionals’ have become discerning in sense religion in their quest for peace. And when they fail to attain a tranquil state of mind, they feel letdown.

Even as I started writing this post, I knew I could only talk about it in rather sketchy terms(‘in my opinion’ ‘of what I see etc). And to talk about something so vague somewhat precisely in brief is not really plausible. I don’t go further so I don’t hurt anybody’s sentiment also.

Concluding,

Belief hasn’t died or disappeared it has only been metamorphosing and relocating itself.

Fifty Shades of Brown

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“Are you dark? Or very light?”

“You mean like plain..or milk chocolate?”

Following Nina Davuluri’s crowning as the Miss. America and the racist remarks episode, there were Indians that reacted to this saying that it was not fair to call her names and how someone becomes American by a way of settlement and not birth. Yeah, I agree to that completely but I also know that this is some kind of umm..uh.. hypocrisy because we (Indians) do not want to self-identify ourselves as brown. I mean, when was the last time we had a ‘brown’ Miss. India!

 

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In 1994, when Ash and Sushmita won the World and Universe titles, I was just a year old, but of course I knew of this when I was 7 or something. And I was very happy that we’ve had a decent number of beautiful women winning these pageants internationally. Growing older, however I have a different perspective- When you look at Ash or even Sushmita Sen, for that matter it is hard to tell that they’re Indian. Apart from the fact that both of them are shades fairer than the women we see everyday, they are also perfect examples of what the ‘elitist’ western world calls ‘elegant’, which can be interpreted as soft-spoken or ‘clean’.
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20 years later, I don’t feel validated. Not yet.

Waking up this morning,I was going through the matrimonial columns in the newspaper. (For those of you that do not know, a matrimonial is like an advertisement for men and women of marriageable age that ask for brides or grooms with certain specifications). And the word that repeated itself so often in these ads was…..1…2..3…say it. say it….FAIR! I don’t exactly lose sleep over the fact that a 30 or 40-ish business man or a software professional wants a ‘fair’ wife,but it confuses me because I still haven’t understood what could be called fair in an Indian context. (‘Should be fair’ is not as specific as saying ‘should wear a size 34’.).

Not just the word ‘fair’ but any word that is associated with looks is inappropriate in a matrimonial because that would just go on to show the reality that marriage is more or less viewed as a union that revolves around sex than other primary factors like compatibility, companionship, love, understanding, acceptance etc. Let’s save that for another post, though.

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India is a diverse country. And there is more diversity in India than the whole of ‘the rest of the world’ put together. And because of this geography and habitual influences, the complexion of course varies from region to region. Generically, one can say that the south is darker than the north.

The partiality towards fair skin is however as much prevalent in the south as the north of India. The reason for this is hard to place. Is it because of the fact that we were once ruled by the British that we’ve developed an affinity towards the people of ‘the crown’? Or is it just that we think fair-skinned people are much more beautiful than dusky/dark ones.

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The problem however,is more sexist in its essence than racist. While the ‘tall,dark,handsome’ holds for men in India, most dark-skinned girls are convinced that they’d never get a guy to marry them. Although the fear is slightly exaggerated, I can tell it is not entirely false. The obsession with light-skinned girls is everywhere. In the movies, particularly in South-Indian movies, while the guy is a brown tending to black, the girl is generally fair almost Caucasian.

The insecurity among the brown girls was not really evident to me until I started going to an all-girls’ college. I’d find that in a group of girls, each individual would be around the same shade of skin color. While most fair girls would wear pink lipstick or some red (yes, to college) in a way to highlight their complexion, most dark girls would highlight their facial features as if to distract beholders from the fact that they were actually dark. And the adjectives used on light skinned girls would be ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’ where as on dusky ones would be ‘hot’ and ‘sexy’.

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I’m not against any group. What I see as pathetic,is how products promising to lighten the complexion of an individual, market themselves by making good use of someone’s weakness. I personally don’t recommend an individual worrying too much about looks. No, I am not selling any ‘beauty comes from within’ bullshit here; but your looks are something you are born with, and just because yours does not fit into what a group of people would call ‘pleasant’ doesn’t mean you should try and change it. Umm. There’s nothing you can do about what you were born with.

Acceptance. That’s all.

“Foolishly madam- by sitting down,has turned
My bottom raven black- One moment madam! – sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears- “Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?””

 

 

 

The virginal Indian

 

 I am 21. And…I am virgin.

This is nothing extraordinary.  India offers an endless procession of virgins. Allowing a  few exceptions, almost every girl you meet, who is unmarried and below 30 years of age is invariably virgin. (There are of course, cases of girls saving themselves for marriage in India) But most of these are ‘accidental’ cases of virgins. While some are resultant of lack of opportunity or just not being able to find ‘a place to do’. This is some kind of a consolation to me- I am not alone.

I am  just like the many Indian spinsters living with their parents. I have a room to myself. The same thing, however could not be said about ‘space’. My parents were brought up on the old-school idea that  it was up to them to protect their daughter. And it was not the individual herself.

In a society where ‘morally correct’ roughly translates into ‘covered’, a society where a huge premium is put on virginity- I am doing things right. I have my privileges. I could just pick out any guy and if he likes me for the person I am, I could marry him without any fear. I am a girl with no evidences of the ‘past’. And being a virgin, I was also entitled to call any ‘hot stuff’ that displeased me-‘slutty’. Also is the fact that, I never really have to calculate my period dates in advance.

 

So why was I frustrated? Being a virgin did not bother me. Not as much as being shy. For someone with absolutely no inhibitions, I am a bit too shy physically, sexually. I know I would hold myself back from even responding to my partner’s advances, leave alone ‘taking the lead’. You might argue that this is nothing to be ashamed of. It is true. And it is also ‘opinion’. I am not someone that people would like seeing as ‘awkward’ in situations.I would hate to be seen as a sexual hypocrite or prude. (2/10 would bang). (Not like I have a problem with being ‘unattractive’. Still.).

 

 I am not the way I used to be at the time of puberty. I no longer get ‘butterflies’ on seeing some ‘great bod’.  Also are these insecurities about my appearances which didn’t exist  then. Almost every girl has been conditioned into thinking anything related to sex and the word itself- is wrong. And naturally is trained into expressing  herself verbally, bodily in an acceptable manner( that is, without the use of sexual references or expressions.).  And I’m used to this. And to suddenly shift to a more flirtatious or feminine demeanor wouldn’t come too easily. Much as  I know that  I am not too old. And also I’m aware of the fact that there is no such thing as the ‘right age’ to have your first erotic experience. And I don’t hate being virgin as much as I’d hate having to look aesthetically-pleasing  for someone to see. However, the realization that my first experience would be a little calculated and mature in opposition to the spontaneous and innocent ones, like in the movies (which in my opinion is how a ’ first’ should be) disappoints me. I feel like I was deprived of having  this ‘experience’. (Perhaps, it was for a greater good.).

 

I’m certainly not a fan of nudity or vulgarity. Nor do I want to see a whole new generation of single moms. I don’t advocate 14 year olds having non-condomed , pre-marital sex either. And deep inside me I know the ‘protective’ nature that is characteristic to a parent is something that I’d be grow up to appreciate. But decisions concerning one’s ‘virginity’ should be conscious/self-made.  An individual has the right to expression. And sex, is a form of expressing oneself. Let’s just say, having a choice is good.