Wednesday, 21 May 2014

So much for daring to Venture out for a Drink in Delhi- in the Afternoon that is!!!

After a long day of work, I decided to unwind over beer and sheesha with my lovely cousin at a restaurant of an upscale market in South Delhi. We entered and were greeted with warmth and enthusiasm by the staff, as they would welcome any other regular guests. As we sat down, I shot a glance to my right and saw two brawny men sitting at the table right next to ours. They were ogling at us with shameless delight. My first reaction was burning rage. I wanted to tell them off, beat them up, call the manager to our rescue, change our table, stare back hard and stern at them, or just simply leave the restaurant. I instead took my silent council for a minute and decided to ignore them at best. Many would think, why? Why did I not do something about it? Why did I not stand my ground? Well since we keep visiting the restaurant every so often, I decided against creating a scene for as long as my cousin and I were not being harmed or harassed in any way (not to mention that lecherous staring is a form of harassment, but never mind, this is Delhi in question, Hello!!). We settled in, ordered our beer and sheesha. I looked around; people had their eyes glued on the television screen, deeply engrossed in a LIVE cricket match, occasionally hooting and clapping. It felt like a fun, chilled ambience. The place was bustling with young people, who had come, to watch the match and have a good time, just like us, except that there was one difference- all were in groups of 3 or 4 and all these groups consisted of at least 1 male companion. At this point of time, our beer and sheehsa had arrived. My cousin is planning to attend B School next year and is just starting to prepare for her GMAT. She asked me to help her out with the vocabulary section. I was gleefully scribbling fancy words on a piece of paper, in a bid to pompously brandish my vocabulary. I wanted to be completely immodest about it!! As we were engaged in our sisterly banter, completely zoned out, in an imaginary classroom of sorts, my sister suddenly felt a heavy pat on her shoulder. She looked back and saw that it was one of those men sitting next to us. He audaciously asked- “Do you like cricket?”. My cousin retorted firmly saying “No”. He hissed- “No? Really??”. She ignored him and turned back to me, and we silently exchanged a look of mutual disdain. However, we were feeling so upbeat about our vocabulary session, that instead of dwelling on what had just happened, we resumed doing what we were doing. Our session was again rudely interrupted, when my sister felt another heavy hand on her shoulder. She turned around to again find the same guy. This time he asked her . “Do you have a lighter?”. My sister exasperated now, loudly said “No”. Our feelings had suddenly elevated from passive disdain to disgusted rage. We were well into our second round of beers. I had stopped scribbling now. We started feeling a little uncomfortable and I could feel myself cringing in the couch, with an impatient desire to lash out. I was just starting to get up and confront the men, when my sister started calming me down saying, “its ok, it happens all the time!” Sigh!!!! Ofcourse the men could perceive the uneasiness and resentment that their actions had inflicted on us, and were preposterously smirking at each other. I somehow tried cooling myself down and was just thinking on the lines of calling for the cheque when something utterly unbelievable happened.  This very man, who had been bothering us all this while, got up, came to our table with a cigarette in his mouth and bent down on our sheesha to light it up from the burning coal. We were left aghast. I was now seething with mad indignation and had almost reached my tipping point. Knowing what could follow if we sat there even for a second longer, my ever discerning cousin immediately gestured to the waiter and he shifted us to their outdoor seating area. We narrated the entire happening to him. He empathized with us and called the manager and briefed him about the situation. The manager then gave the cheque to these men and asked them to leave.
Ever since, I have been trying to psychoanalyze the episode. Why were my cousin and I subjected to such a harrowing experience? Why would anyone harass 2 young girls who had come out to have a good time with each other? Were we skimpily dressed? NO. Did we exude inviting vibes? NO. Was our body language provocative in any manner?. No. Does drinking beer and smoking sheesha inadvertently send out wrong signals? MAYBE (many of you must be thinking it’s a crass inference!). Is it because we were not being chaperoned by a male companion? MAYBE. Then I clubbed the last 2 conjectures. Are 2 women who venture out alone to a restaurant to drink beer and smoke sheesha, assumed to be vulnerable enough to be considered promiscuous and fast?? Waves of such thoughts kept barraging my mental peace throughout the evening.
The reason could be any one of the above. I really do not know. Or maybe it is just that some debauched men, who strongly believe that they can get away with anything, are ravaging my city. They have zilch fear. No fear of law, no fear of social consequences and above all no fear of God. As for the women, everything boils down to this- “An act as simple as venturing out for a drink with your sister or a female friend is fraught with the peril of attracting unsolicited attention and sometimes even serious harm”. If I ever tell my mother about what happened, she will never stop me from going out, but will be forever fearful and worried about my safety. If I tell my friends about it, they will say “its normal, common, it happens all the time!”. If I tell some affluent acquaintances about it, they would say, “you should go to more fancy restaurants, they are expensive but at least safe!!” Some would suggest, “You may as well chill at home” or “You could have chosen a better time of the day to go”.
All these suggestions and responses are impertinent to nub of the matter. All I know is that I have been denied my basic human right, the fundamental right of moving about uninhibited and fearless, on the streets of my own City. I feel sad, angry, frustrated, resentful, caged, discriminated, vulnerable, frail but above all- HELPLESS!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Is going the arranged way passé?

In my late teens, my antipathy towards arranged marriages was very evident to friends and family alike. The very mention of this ‘outmoded’ concept used to leave me vexed and defensive. I used to blatantly look down upon people opting for such obsolete alliances, labeling them ‘old fashioned’ and ‘silly’. But now being 24, I often find myself asking -Are arranged marriages all that bad after all?
I know of people who have courted for years before tying the knot, but have barely been able to make it as husband and wife, past a few months! Gosh- they knew each other for almost a decade- who in their right mind could have possibly thought that their marriage would so swiftly disintegrate? On the other hand I know of a few well-educated, successful professionals, who have taken the plunge with a man/woman of their parents’ choice, having met each other only once or twice before deciding to share a lifetime together- but have been happily married for years now! What explains this queer phenomenon? Should we shun these cases as mere exceptions? Or is there more to it?
Arranged marriage as a concept, has thrived successfully in the Indian socio-cultural milieu since time immemorial.  My grandparents’ were arranged in marriage by their respective families. They lived happily together for 60 long years. My parents have been married for 30 years now- and had met each other only once before deciding to get hitched! Despite divorce rates having doubled over the last couple of years, India still boasts itself as a country with one of the lowest divorce statistics in the world.
I feel that love marriages are driven by intense emotions. Both individuals are high on oxytocin, and thus may take decisions based of sheer impulse. Rationale may be clouded by the initial euphoria of romantic attachment. It is only when they are married- that they realize that ‘being in love’ and ‘being married’ are two humongously different things. As the initial rush wanes, the rose-tinted notion of love dwindles, and acrimony creeps in. This is not to say that all love marriages meet a similar fate. There are some exemplary love marriages that have been super successful. Also couples in love marriages have high expectations from each other. Especially women, expect their husbands to be as affectionate and doting, as they were before they got married. The bars are set too high, and when unrealistic expectations go unmet, individuals are left feeling frustrated and disillusioned.
In arranged marriages, however, better judgment prevails, as decisions are taken based on logical reasoning. Social, economic and cultural backgrounds are matched- thus these marriages stand a better chance of survival. Surprisingly, arranged marriage is catching up as a popular trend amongst youngsters today, as an increasing number of them are starting to believe that it is the new ‘smart’ thing to do. Many believe, that their parents are experienced, have seen life more than they have, and thus are in a better position to decide what will work out best for them.
Proponents of love marriage claim that it has the comforting ‘familiarity’ quotient to it. “Atleast we are not getting married to a stranger”- they say. But love marriages may not always pan out as expected. Shobha De, in her book ‘spouse’, writes about a friend who got married to a charming young man, with whom she fell in love at University in the States. Alas, he metamorphosed into a debauched, overweight jerk, who would raise his hand at his wife, every time she begged to differ. Her friend eventually decided to divorce her depraved husband. Thus people also change with changing circumstances. There is no guarantee!
Proponents of arranged marriage claim that the charm of getting to know a person gradually over time is unparalleled. The mystery of exploring the many facets to a partner’s personality appeals to them. A friend told me once- “I got married without so much as holding hands before our wedding night. It was daunting at first, but we gradually opened up to each other, and everyday, we got to know something new about each other. The experience itself was extremely fulfilling” However arranged marriages too, run an equal amount of risk, as one may not necessarily like what is unearthed and exposed to them over time!

Now divorce rates are spiraling in India like never before. It is increasingly becoming common amongst the educated and wealthy burgeoning middle class of the country. The social stigma associated with divorce is gradually diluting. Financial independence of women has empowered them to put their foot down when a marriage goes awry (which was unthinkable of earlier).  People are also becoming increasingly intolerant and impulsive, willing to end things at the first sign of trouble. They are more devoted to their careers, and are unwilling to spare time and energy in fixing their relationship issues. Does this revolution mark cultural progression or social degeneration?

Nub being- that marriage is a big gamble- love and arranged alike. Both have a 50:50 chance of survival. As the famous metaphor in Hindi goes- “Shaadi ka laddo aisa hai- khao toh problem, nai khao toh bhi problem!” Marriage is like a sumptuous dessert- you do not want to consume it, but you do not want to stay away from it either! It was, is and will continue to remain an enigma that is tough to fathom! Marriage of any kind needs to be nurtured and worked upon. Domestic trivia is invariable, but tolerance, love and compromise are the prominent factors that underpin a successful alliance.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Lost Identity

Upon marriage, a woman assumes the family name of her spouse. Thus her maiden name, i.e., her birth name-the very name with which she has identified herself for almost a quarter of her life is replaced by her spouse’s last name. Worst still, I have heard stories of women being christened new ‘first names’ by their in-laws for astrological reasons, to ensure marital bliss.   An Indu Sharma, becomes a Mrs. Gupta, or worse still, Mrs. Suresh Gupta. She is addressed as Mr. Gupta’s wife at social gatherings, and in more vernacular settings, as Suresh Gupta’s ‘Mrs’. The name ‘Indu Sharma’ suddenly ceases to exist. Alas, in most cases- ‘Indu Sharma’ perishes, not only as a name, but also as an individual.
‘Why do some married women so easily relinquish their individualities’- is a compelling question that I often find myself asking.  I know of a few women, who were very ambitious and career-oriented, and spent years, striving to realize their dreams, until one day- they got married and gave it all up, for reasons that are iffy in more ways than one. Now they have been reduced to mere trophies and are leading mundane, unproductive lives. Some say that they ‘choose’ to live the life that they are living (which is fine by me- to each, his own). However many others are plain jaded by the sheer monotony and lack of purpose to their lives, but are almost reticent to speak up about it. These women start living as their spouses’ shadow; and their entire world revolves around the husband as the pivotal focus. This unhealthy clinging often leads to frustration and a plethora of unfulfilled needs. These attention hungry women are on a lookout for constant reassurance from their husbands. However when their spouses fail/refuse to fuel their self-worth, their world falls apart, leaving them feeling disillusioned and worthless. They are suddenly rendered redundant, but can do little to salvage their dignity. Worse still, in some cases, women are aware of the womanizing and philandering ways of their infidel partners, but are reluctant to opt out of the marriage, as they do not want to loose their marital status, which becomes the sole basis of their identity and existence! Their emotional and financial reliance on their husbands leaves them with no choice but to live on with the façade of their meaningless marriage.
This sensitive subject has been wonderfully portrayed by new wave cinema that dates back as early as the 1980’s. Grappling under the social pressure of keeping their marriage and thus family honor intact, women used to endure harassment, violence, humiliation, infidelity and much more. Path-breaking films like ‘Arth and ‘Ek Baar Phir’ incite a fresh and progressive school of thought by splintering the stigma associated with divorce, thus enkindling every Indian woman to snap out of her domestic rut and value and preserve her individuality. They also expound the significance of self-reliance for women, encouraging them to stand on their own two feet, so that they can exercise greater freedom of choice and action!
The nub being, that in blissful and acrimonious marriages alike, women should never compromise on ‘self’. A fulfilling marriage is one where you share your life with a person you care about, while being self-sufficient yourself!!!

Friday, 18 October 2013


Jaisingh Jadhav (Mark Zuber) is an avid journalist with a newspaper called Daily Reporter. A Michigan State University alumnus, he is married to Sarita Jadhav (Shabana Azmi) who is also a multi-faceted personality. She too holds a foreign university degree and knows archery and horse riding. They have been married for 10 years and do not have a child. Jaisingh is ferociously ambitious and is known for reporting scoops, scandals and sensational stories that have greatly contributed towards the newspaper’s success. He is always on a lookout to be in the limelight and decides to expose the very rampant flesh-trade business in Madhya Pradesh in a candid and unconventional manner. He purchases a girl of the Bhil tribe from a village in Madhya Pradesh for merely Rs 250, and brings her home to Delhi.
He then decides to present this girl, Kamla (Deepti Naval) at a press conference to expose the harsh reality of some Indian women still being sold at half the price of cattle in the country. Sarita’s uncle Kakasahib, comes to stay with her for a few days. He owns a newspaper back in his village, and has his own professional differences with Jaisingh. While, Jaisingh feels that the ‘art lies in presenting the case, not the case itself’, principled and upright Kakasahib, preaches that instead of reporting scandals in a bid to increase readership and gain publicity, journalists should instead contribute to the country’s betterment by focusing on valid reasoning and looking for viable solutions to problems. Jaisingh claims that he is doing a favor to the society by exposing harsh realities. However Kakasahib, who believes in writing in the vernacular to reach out to a larger audience, trumps his argument, contending that he writes in a language that can only be understood by a handful of people. Post the very successful press conference- Jaisingh and his sycophant friend, Jain, come back home in an inebriated state, and decide to celebrate over a few more drinks. They laughingly tell Kakasahib and Sarita about how Kamla was inundated with humiliating questions by men and women alike. However oblivious Kamla was unaware of what was being insinuated, and laughed along with the very people who were making a mockery of her! Kakasahib and Sarita are instantly appalled at his insensitivity and accuse Jaisingh of wanting to sensationalize the case at the cost of a despondent woman’s dignity. When his journalistic ethics are questioned, he admonishes Kakasahib claiming that the rubbish that he chooses to write is hardly read by anyone.
That night, he tries to forcefully make love to Sarita, but she is so disgusted and hurt by her husband’s unsympathetic behavior, that she shuns his maneuvers and decided to take a stroll in the house. That is when she spots Kamla and the two women have a poignant heart to heart conversation with each other.
Sarita learns that Kamla is a gullible tribal girl who believes that women are wired to be enslaved by men. She finds male domination normal, as she doesn’t know any different. In all her naivety and child like innocence, she assumes that Sarita has been bought by Jaisingh- and asks how much he paid for her. A bemused Sarita teasingly tells her “Rs 750”. Once Kamla learns that Sarita is childless, she candidly tells her that she thinks that Jaisingh bought a very bad deal for himself- as he paid so much for a woman who couldn’t even give him a child! She then righteously reaches a settlement with Sarita, suggesting that she can look after the household chores and bear Jaisingh’s child, while Sarita can accompany him to social gatherings and events, as that is something she feels she is not cut out for.
Sarita is all heart for Kamla and their conversation makes her come to terms with the harsh fact that her life is actually akin to that of Kamla’s.
Sarita is a well-educated lady, yet subjugated to her husband in every sense of the word. She is a dutiful and caring wife who is always supportive of Jaisingh’s work and his needs. She is always available at his beck and call, at home, in bed and in social circuits. Yet, she is forever taken for granted and literally used by Jaisingh for his selfish needs. She thus tries to discern the difference between herself and Kamla, as both are in way bought my Jaisingh- Kamla for his professional needs and she, for his bodily, domestic and social needs. The only difference being that Kamla was bought off the market at a monetary value, while Sarita was bought through the social license of marriage. The paradox of the stark contrast, yet the uncanny similarity between the trajectories of the lives of these two women, is the crux of the movie. Jaisingh’s story makes the government draw a lot of flak. Eventually he is ousted from the newspaper through a political coup. A defeated Jaisingh comes back home- shattered and hurt, his ego damaged irrevocably. That is when he feels the need of his wife’s support for the very first time! The movie sends out a strong message- of the strange and ineffable world that we live in- where everyone is a slave to someone or something, be it Kamla, Sarita or Jaisingh for that matter!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Ek Baar Phir- One more time

My penchant for old Indian art films and parallel cinema knows no bounds. One of the lesser-known art films of the 1980’s, that I enjoyed watching recently was a Deepti Naval and Pradeep Verma starrer –“Ek Baar Phir”. With a deeply engaging and bold storyline, along with stellar performances and excellent cinematography, it surely is one film that I would recommend every arthouse cinema lover, to watch!
Mahendra (Suresh Oberoi) is a superstar, married to Kalpana (Deepti Naval) who is a housewife. Kalpana accompanies Mahendra to one of his film shoots in London. Mahendra is a haughty and conceited fellow, who is extremely unprofessional and cannot get over his starry tantrums! A night owl, womanizer and borderline alcoholic are words that describe his disposition best!! Kalpana on the other hand is aware of his amoral ways, but can do little to tame her incorrigible husband. She has more or less become his shadow, and at one point feels so ensnared in her dull/purposeless existence, that life seems to have landed in a stalemate for her! Despite all the luxuries at her disposal, her stifled individuality and a pressing void of “passionate love” continues to sting her- until one day she bumps into a street artist, Vimal (Pradeep Verma). Their mutual love for contemporary art draws them towards each other, and from here on; their passionate love affair commences. While Mahendar, leaves for Switzerland for the second leg of his shoot, Kalpana insists on staying back to attend art classes!
During this time, the bond between Kalpana and Vimal deepens and takes a more serious turn. Vimal helps her, come into her own. His touch makes her understand the true essence of life. Suddenly she feels that her identity has been re-established and she starts discerning the basis of her existence, until one day Mahendar turns up at her apartment in London to surprise her! He ecstatically breaks the news that he has bagged a film with an American director. He departs for America leaving Kalpana in a quandary! She realizes that she is so irrevocably entangled in her rut with Mahender that the idea of relinquishing it all, for her newfound love for Vimal, suddenly seems far-fetched and inane. She henceforth starts avoiding him. Vimal is devastated and tries desperately to get Kalpana to talk to him once, but to no avail. He finally writes a letter to her expressing his wish to meet her “sirf ek baar phir”.
The movie very beautifully portrays sensitive nuances of womanhood and the significance of ‘self’ in the life of a married Indian woman. A quaint and heart-felt portrayal of a woman’s search for her identity, this coming off age film will surely propel and empower every Indian woman to stand up for herself, and believe in who she is and what she wants from life! The film breaks all women associated stereotypes and invokes a new, refreshing and progressive school of thought!

The above review got published on the link below-

An edited version got published on the link below-

Arth- The meaning of life

Arth, released in 1982, and is one of Mahesh Bhatt’s best works. The movie revolves around the life of a married couple, Inder (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and Pooja (Shabana Azmi). Inder is a struggling filmmaker, who is having an extra-marital affair with an established actress, Kavita (Smita Patil). Oblivious Pooja on the contrary is leading the life of a housewife, and like any other ordinary woman, she has been long yearning for an independent house, and keeps prodding Inder to find ways to shift out from their rented apartment. Kavita on the other hand is suffering from schizophrenia. She is capricious and insecure, and is extremely possessive about Inder. With Kavita’s help, Inder manages to buy a house for Pooja and promises her, that in return, he would soon take a divorce from his wife! Pooja on the other hand is made to believe that Inder has bagged a big budget film, and has bought the house with the advance payment. She is ecstatic and thrilled and gets busy doing up her new home! With her dream finally coming true after 7 long years, she finally feels that she has arrived and that good times are here to stay!
However, her joy is short-lived, as she soon finds out about Inder’s illicit affair with Kavita. She pleads with Inder to forget Kavita and promises him that they would start afresh. However, Inder, knee deep in his relationship with Kavita by now, turns a deaf ear to her poignant imploring, and leaves her in the lurch. While leaving, he grants her the permission to stay in the new house. 
Pooja spends a few days in disbelief and self-denial, struggling hard to come to terms with the painful reality. Having lived as Inder’s shadow for most part of her life, she cannot imagine thriving without his support! Eventually, she pulls herself together and moves out of the house. From here on, she begins her journey as an independent woman, which is the highlight of the movie.
She finds herself a job and an accommodation and is introduced to the ‘big bad world’ for the very first time. She eventually manages to find her feet, and meets a great guy, ‘Raj’ along the way. Raj, with his optimistic self and cheerful disposition, helps Pooja slowly recuperate from her marital woes. Just when Pooja is on a new high of life, in terms of work and her newfound friendship with Raj, Inder lands on her doorstep with divorce papers. This final jab further liberates Pooja and helps her come into her own.
Kalpana eventually abandons Inder. Helpless and repentant, he goes back to Pooja and asks for forgiveness! What follows, is a beautiful and exemplary illustration of woman’s dignity, conviction and mental strength!
Pooja’s unsuccessful marriage becomes the stepping-stone to her realization of ‘self’. She takes her harrowing experience in positive stride, and finally manages to establish her own identity. She turns down a more than willing Raj’s marriage proposal, breaking all bastions of female powerlessness.
In the India of the1980’s, divorce was still a taboo and was often discouraged and looked down upon. Grappling under the social pressure of keeping their marriage and thus family honor intact, women used to endure harassment, violence, humiliation and much more. There were others, like Pooja, who had infidel partners, but still opted to stay in their marriage, as they were financially reliant on their husbands. This path-breaking film surely splinters the stigma associated with divorce, and inspires every Indian woman to value and preserve her individuality. It also expounds the significance of self-reliance for women, encouraging them to stand on their own two feet, so that they can exercise greater freedom of choice and action! Here’s hoping that this movie enkindles every Pooja, to break all women related prejudices and stereotypes, and discover the true ‘arth’ (meaning) of life, without ever feeling the need of a man’s support!

An edited version of this review got published on the link below-

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Are we prepared?

Not so long ago in India, love marriages were unheard of. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents were married for more than 60 years, and had never seen each other before the union. My parents have been married for 32 years now.  They only met once before they took the plunge. Now times have changed drastically. More than 30% of marriages in India are love marriages. Pre-marital sex is very common. Inter-caste marriages are on the rise. Even in contemporary arranged marriages, people prefer meeting each other multiple times over coffee and meal rendezvous, to get to know each other better. We are gradually starting to emulate the West when it comes to love, sex and marriage.
Hoardings and billboards are galore with scantily dressed women selling various life style products. Indian cinema is blatantly embracing sex, with intimate/love making scenes having become bolder like never before.
This love/sex /marriage revolution has already brought about significant cultural changes in India’s urban metropolitan cities, and is slowly spreading to small towns and cities too! But a compelling question still looms large! Are we ready for this revolution just as yet?
India is witnessing huge despair-driven exodus in the countryside. About 350 million Indians now live in cities, and an additional 250 million are expected to move to urban areas in the next two decades. Most of these migrants are economic migrants who come from small, impoverished villages and towns in search of better work opportunities. However they do not get the kind of work and education they expect and continue to languish in poverty. This frustrated lot, with little or no money in their pockets, slog to make ends meet. Some fall prey to alcoholism and drug abuse. With little motivation and broken community ties, they reel under an extreme sense of anonymity with no social expectations to fear.  When exposed to the unfamiliar modern vibe of cities, they feel out of place and confused. It is these very people who then end up becoming perpetrators of heinous women related crimes such as rapes, acid attacks etc. Similar is the case of the nouveau riche. Delhi and its surrounding states are experiencing rapid infrastructure growth. A lot of farmers/rural landowners living on the city’s periphery have sold off their lands and become rich over-night. They hail from the lower social and economic strata of the society, and lack the worldly wisdom and fundamental values to handle their newly acquired wealth. Besides sex-education is literally absent in the country, with abortions surging on an unprecedented scale.
Thus, even though India’s educated burgeoning middle-class is aping the West and embracing modernity with open hearts, there is still a huge section of our society, which is culturally retrograde and thus, is torn between traditionalism and western views.
Male libido is running strong and men still have restricted access to women. As Indian novelist and journalist 'Khushwant Singh' rightly says- 'sexual repression is the result of 9/10th’s of India’s crime and violence problem'.
India is under-going a massive cultural transition, but are we really ready for it? Does this revolution come at a cost?
Here’s hoping that we soon have the right roads to drive this Ferrari on!!!

[This blog is inspired by the views expressed by Indian novelist Ira Trivedi in her talk on ‘Love Revolution’ in India]