Friday, March 30, 2007

Bangles for Sachin.

Cricket fans in Patna are angry with the Indian Cricket Team because of their exit from the world cup. So what do they do?

Take a poster of Sachin's, blacken it a bit, hold it up for the benefit of the photographer, and hold bangles to the poster.
[Picture here, scroll down a bit]

There are two things extremely offensive about this.

1) Offering bangles to a loser is an age-old Indian gesture of insult. Which is an abominable thing. It means that the loser is "no better than a woman". It is a terribly demeaning statement.

2) The fans who are offering bangles to the Sachin poster, are women. Yes. Not men. Women themselves, who are demeaning themselves by this act. Do they even realize what it means? Do they understand that they are putting themselves down? If they do know the significance of this gesture, do they really have that low an opinion of themselves as women?

[Anil and Emma on the same issue. Though they had already written about it, I felt I just had to write about it too.]

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I am Jaguar Paw and this is my forest.

Very occasionally, I get bitten by a bug that makes me want to do something quite unlike me. Recently, it was the urge to watch a movie in a theatre. "Some movie, any movie", I whined.

The next question was, "Which movie?" S said that he heard that "300" was good, and so I looked up the reviews, and went back to him, saying, "I read that it is too violent, let's go to a lighter movie".

"Ok, your choice", he said.

I searched high and low and found that "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Pursuit of Happyness" sounded good - and I zeroed in on Little Miss Sunshine.

S very kindly acquiesced, and we landed at PVR cinemas. But I was in for a little surprise. The show that I thought started at 7 40 was indeed there, but it was the Gold class show - with tickets costing Rs.450. Now, even when I am in the crazy mode, some sense does prevail. Paying Rs.150 for the usual ticket itself pains me - but 450? Nothing doing! S was open to the idea, but I just walked off. So what do we do now? In PVR with nothing to do?

None of the other movies seemed interesting, and those that were interesting were sold out.

Then S's eyes caught sight of Apocalypto.

"I've heard it's good", he said.

I hadn't even heard of the movie. "Fine", I said, "If you think so", and we bought the tickets.

We were already ten minutes late, and we rushed to the hall.

As we entered, S whispered, "Its about Mayans."
"Wow", I thought.
As we settled into our seats, he said, "It's directed by Mel Gibson. It could be, err.. a little gory".
"How gory can it be?" I thought, already transfixed by the sight of the larger-than-life images of the people of an ancient Mayan tribe on the screen, with emerald green forests in the background.

The conversation was in some alien language, but there were subtitles, of course. It just needed five minutes to get me totally immersed in the movie. Those characters, with their dress, make up, their language, the picturisation, the sound - it was very good.

As the movie progressed, everything seemed hunky-dory - the seemingly idyllic life of a village in the jungle - but then there was a sense of foreboding. Both in the characters in the screen, and in me.

And then it began.

Carnage. Bloodshed.

I promptly shut my eyes. But I couldn't shut the screams out.

S watched for a couple of minutes, and then he looked at me. "We can always walk out, you know, if you cannot stand it. I don't mind at all", he said.

"I'm fine with staying and watching the movie", I said. I was already too engrossed in the movie, violence and all. "But let me know when I can open my eyes", I clarified.

So that is how the rest of the movie went. The slightest hint of blood and gore and I would avert my eyes. S would watch it and then after the scene finished, he would tell me, "You can watch now".

So I actually spent half of the movie examining my fingernails, admiring the pattern on my handbag, or looking at S and observing his reactions to the movie. Not a wince, not a shudder from him, but an imperceptible stiffening as the screams and noise increased. Then he would visibly relax and say, "You can watch now". And I would watch. And I loved what I watched.

It is a very well-made movie. It must have needed a lot of effort to make. The dress, makeup, the entire movie being in the Mayan language, the forests, the cultures, even the ghastly customs - made for gripping viewing.

Oh, what is the movie about, do you ask? It is about this guy Jaguar Paw, who is captured along with his tribespeople, to serve as human sacrifice to appease the Mayan Gods, and about how he escapes.

The Title of this post? One of the oft-repeated dialogues, which I loved - "I am Jaguar Paw, son of Flint Sky. My Father hunted this forest before me. My name is Jaguar Paw. I am a hunter. This is my forest. And my sons will hunt it with their sons after I am gone. "

If you can stomach loads of blood and gore, then do watch the movie.

As for me, my "I-want-to-watch-a-movie" sickness seems to have been cured once and for all.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Low investment, high returns

A bitterly cold December morning in Darjeeling. My alarm rang at 3 30 am. I unwillingly dragged myself out from under the thick quilt, and woke up my friends, who were equally reluctant to get out into the biting cold. We cursed and fretted, got up and washed in the freezing water and stepped out into the darkness, tumbled into a jeep and set out to catch the world-famous sunrise at Tiger Hill. We dozed in the jeep, shivering under layers of clothes, and I kept muttering, why exactly am I sitting here, freezing in this jeep when I could be curled up under the warm quilt at the hotel? No answer.

But a couple of hours later, I had just finished witnessing one of the most magical sights of my life. The sunrise at Tiger Hill. I had seen the enchanting Kanchenjunga in the first rays of the sun, and even now, eight years later, I count it as one of the best experiences of my life.

All I had to do was withstand some cold and give up three hours of sleep, and I had got myself an experience that I will always cherish.

So simple.

I cannot count the number of times I have cribbed at being woken up at 5 am on a Sunday to go for a walk at Lalbagh. But each of those walks remain in my memory as some of the best days of my childhood.

I remember how much I cried about being waken up by my parents at 2 am in the night to watch my first complete lunar eclipse, and my first comet. But I'll never forget either experience, ever.

I would get so irritated with my father for waking me up at dawn when we were on vacation - couldn't he see that I was sleepy? But he would say, "You can sleep any time, you might not get another chance to visit this beautiful place and see the view at this hour ever again".

How I hated being woken up by my mother at 4 am in the morning at Mysore, just to make me listen to the terrifying roar of the lions in the zoo, 5-6 km away. But how I cherish that memory now - knowing that I'll probably never hear anything like that ever again.

It is not just about losing sleep. Some of the best places I have been, have been travelled to in rickety little village buses. Or been travelled to for long hours in hot, dusty trains, with upset stomachs. Or in hot old shaky taxis, thirsty and hungry. But though I do remember that there was some discomfort, I don't remember how much or how it felt. All I remember is what I saw and enjoyed.

Life holds a lot of treasures - how much of it you will find depends on how much hardship you are ready to face.

Little discomforts, which will be forgotten in no time - in exchange for memories of a lifetime. What a small price to pay!

Friday, March 16, 2007


Many decades ago, in a small village in Karnataka, there was a boy, the son of the Shanbhog (Village accountant). A very bright and intelligent fellow, he always topped his class at school. When he finished middle school, his father decided to send him to the nearest big town, Davangere, for high school, since there was no high school in the village. The boy stayed at a hostel and attended the high school at Davangere.

Gradually, the boy fell into bad company at the hostel, and started smoking, gambling, and bunking classes. Before he knew it, the exams were upon him and he failed in a couple of subjects. He returned to his village for the holidays, and it took all his persuasive skills and promises to let his father send him back to school. His previous excellent reputation at school might have played a part too, and anyway, his father sent him back to school with a warning.

The boy went back to school, determined to avoid all the boys he hung out with the previous term, but as time went by, he was drawn to them again, and he was back to his bad habits. This time, when the exams loomed large, the boy got scared, and unable to face his parents, he packed a small bag and ran away. To cut a long and painful story short, the police found the runaway boy after two weeks in a distant town, and sent him back home to the village. His homecoming was joyously celebrated, but the matter of sending him back to school was dropped. The boy also had no guts to speak about it, so he resigned himself to a life of a Shanbhog.

Shortly, the Shanbhog's friend came visiting, and was quite pained to see a boy he considered brilliant, taken out of school. He talked to the Shanbhog, and told him that he would take the boy to chitradurga, where he lived, and the boy could stay at his house and study at the high school in Chitradurga. The Shanbhog was difficult to persuade, but he relented at the end, on the condition that the money for all the fees and other expenses of the boy should go directly from the Shanbhog's hands to the friend's, and the boy should at no time be allowed to have even a paisa on his person. This was agreed to, and the friend took the boy away with him to his house, and made arrangements for him to stay in a room in their outhouse, where other boys like him were staying and studying at the local high school.

The arrangement was fine, the boy ate breakfast and dinner at the friend's house, and attended school, but for lunch, the boy was in a dilemma. Being of a shy disposition, he couldn't bring himself to come back home during lunch break and go up to the main house to ask the lady of the house for lunch. The lady, perhaps, assumed that the boy, being the son of a Shanbhog, would definitely have money with him, and would be eating his lunch somewhere outside. Too embarrassed to explain this situation to either his father or the father's friend, the boy went through many months without lunch.

Soon, a couple of boys at school - brothers - befriended this boy, and their friendship grew. The brothers naturally noticed that their new friend did not eat lunch at all, and instead, filled his stomach with water from the tap. They went home and told their mother about this. Their mother felt sorry for the boy, and told her sons to bring him home with them for lunch henceforth.

The next day, the brothers told the boy about their mother's invitation, but the boy was too shy to accompany them to their house. He refused to go. So the brothers went back home for lunch without the boy. Their mother was furious. "Why didn't you bring your friend with you? What kind of boys are you? How can you think of eating when your friend is sitting there, hungry? This is because you don't know what hunger is. You won't get any lunch today. Hereafter, if you want lunch, you should bring your friend with you". The brothers went back, hungry and crestfallen, and told the boy what they had had to undergo because of him.

The boy couldn't believe his ears. Was this lady for real?

The next day, he had no choice but to accompany the brothers to their home for lunch. Their mother welcomed him with affection, and he became a regular at their house. Soon, he virtually started living in their house, and he was always treated by the family as another son of the house. [Even now, seventy odd years later, the boy considers the lady as his second mother, and remembers her fondly.]

I don't think I need to add that the boy now applied himself to his work diligently, and when he passed the tenth standard board exams, he was just among a handful of boys in the entire district to pass with a first class.

The boy, in case you haven't already guessed, is my grandfather.

This is the gist of one of my favourite episodes in my grandfather (Prof J.R.Lakshmana Rao)'s memoirs, "Nenapina Alegalu" - Waves of Memories.

I like this story for a number of reasons.

1) That such a confused(?) young boy turned out into a fine, well-respected Chemistry professor, chief-editor of the University's Kannada-English dictionary, authored about 25 science books, many of which won him Sahitya Akademi Awards among various other awards, was awarded a National Award for Science Writing, etc. -- This story shows that no child is incorrigible. Belief in a child, guidance in the right path, and love can make any child bloom.

2) Can such people have really walked the earth?
A man, who, out of his confidence in a friend's son's abilities, offers to take up the entire responsibility of his studies, in spite of the boy's notoriety as the "boy who had run away from home".
A lady with so much love that she could make her own sons go hungry for a boy she hadn't even met - And later, treats him no different from her own sons.

It is beyond comprehension. And it never fails to touch my heart.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Blank Noise Project - Action Heroes

Blank Noise Project is back with the blogathon - and this year, we are asked to share stories of how we, as victims of street harrassment, fought back and became Action Heroes.

Now, I haven't done anything remotely heroic, which would warrant a story, but they ask -

Being a 'HERO' is relative . We are interested in knowing how you challenged yourself or didn't feel victimised?

This statement was what pushed me into writing this - I might not be an Action Hero, but I haven't always been passive either.

I had written last year about my first experience at being eve-teased.

Many many years ago. A hot summer's day. First day of the academic year. I was walking back from school with a new friend. We reached an intersection, and she and I had to go different ways.
"Bye! It was good to meet you!" I called out to her.
There were a group of guys in a car parked close to us.
"Bye to her... now meet ussssss", they called out, with wolf-whistles.
I was being eve-teased. For the first time in my life. I was horrified, and nearly struck dumb. But I desperately wanted to impress my new friend.
"Mind your own business, Mister, or I will tell the police", I hollered, in true Bollywood style.
"Oye!" said one, and opened one door of the car.
That was it. All my bravado vanished and I ran home as fast as my skinny ten-year-old legs could carry me. I reached home and half-proud, half-scared, poured it all out to my mother. She listened, eyes widening.
"Where was that car parked?"
"In front of the bar!", said I, nonchalantly.
"Shruthi! Those guys could have been drunk! They could have done anything! Do not, I repeat, DO NOT answer back to them! Just ignore them!"

After this incident, I did ignore verbal harrassment for a long time. But many times, more in recent years when my confidence has grown, I respond with what I think is a withering look. I don't know if it cows them down or not... but I feel that I have fought back in my own little way.

But those eve-teasers who brush against me in crowded streets? I always answer with a jab of my elbow, or I lash out at them - it is an instinct. Else, if the street is not too crowded and if the guy in question has not got lost in the crowd, I even turn around and shout "Heeeeeyyyy!" People turn around, and look at him and he slinks away. I have no idea about eve-teaser mentality, but I like to think that he was embarrassed and will think twice before indulging in eve-teasing again. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but I hope not.

I haven't needed to use public transport on a regular basis, but on those occasions that I have travelled in buses, and have observed a man with a propensity to stand or sit too close, I used my elbows to jab hard at him, or I have pressed down my foot very hard on his feet (this has been good fun - I can direct all my anger at his foot - but I don't wear heels, a pity)... or I have looked him in the eye and said sarcastically, "Yenu, jaaga saalada?" (What's the matter, don't have enough space?"). It works. They always move away. And sometimes, if a particularly garrulous lady is around and has viewed the entire episode, she does her bit by proclaiming loudly, "These men - they see a young girl and all they want to do is paw her"... and more in that vein. That is very satisfying indeed. It catches the attention of the whole bus, and its great to see the discomfort of the perpetrator.

I feel that any little act of fighting back or a defensive attitude, makes me feel that I have got the better of the eve-teaser. And that's what matters. The confidence to walk on the streets with my head held high.
- -