Thursday, March 26, 2015

Blame the fish!!

If there is anything more divine than God himself then it is the game of cricket in India. Do not believe a politician or a religion driven fanatic when he says India is divided because of religion. Cricket is the biggest religion in India and it does not divide the nation, rather it brings the whole country together. So as the cricket world cup took its semi-final lap and the Indian Gods of cricket took the center stage, the country waited with bated breath for the final outcome. A long day for the diaspora spread across continents. A day which would keep the Gods busier than ever leaving little room for any recreation. If someone says that believing in superstitions is a thing of the past, then he has to observe an Indian watching his team play the game of cricket. From chanting every known Vedic mantras, to letting go of nature’s call, from staking all that you love to the almighty to wearing the same t-shirt through all the matches, superstitions can have a whole new meaning to it. I remember as a young girl I used to fold little tabs of paper with a ‘Yes’ and a ‘NO’ written on it. Make a quiet prayer to the supremo and take the leap of faith; India will win or India will lose! All this stagecraft for the ultimate Holy Grail, the sacrosanct win for the country. Well patriotism had a new definition when a game of cricket was on!

Indians have always been superstitious. No wonder an otherwise purposeless vagabond rock will get a wreath of flowers if it is kept idle for too long under a Peepal tree. A whole place of worship comes up around this ‘rock’ with people flocking with little pots of milk and a basket full of flowers. Keep it longer, and a temple comes up. Give it some more time and it will be among the major attractions for the town. What is more amazing is the protest that follows if the administration tries to intervene and dislodge it. The fear of evoking the wrath of the gods with the purging of a vagabond rock is not only alarming but also amusing.

So, if a rock can arouse such intense feeling, just imagine what cricket would. Hence, when the ‘Champions’ came in to play their semi-final against the second champions, the entire exodus of Indians were glued to their television sets. Raising the expectation of the masses was the ‘Fish’s’ prediction for the Indian win. Yes, you heard it right, ‘a fish’. Can it be more bizarre than that? After all the tarot card readers, the astrologers, the ‘Bejan Daruwalas’, the neumerologists, it was now the turn of the scaly being. I was beguiled by this piece of queer news to the extent of actually falling off my chair with hysterical laughter.

So the match was played with the entire nation hanging in anticipation to every ball bowled. Anyway, no matter how many prayers were said and how many hands were joined, at the end of the day the best team won. No fish and no prayers could salvage the poor performance of the Indian team.

But in spite of the glaring reality, we Indians have an underlying consistent frame of attitude, popularly known as the ostrich attitude. We think if we stick our heads in the ground, and continue believing what we have been believing then the reality won’t change. Hence, although the team’s performance was not up to the mark yet we blamed the woman. Why? Because since Chanakyan times, men have always believed that if a man does well then it is because of his own demeanor and valor whereas if he fails to perform his duty and goes down just because he was having a bad day, then it must be a woman who is to be blamed. Whether a delayed promotion or a freak accident, an excess of ordered food in the restaurant or a failed marriage, whatever the cause but the obvious reason, ‘the woman’. How unconvincingly feeble this thought is that we blame ‘the woman’ for the poor performance of ‘her man’! She was as much shocked at the performance as any of you are. She is as much Indian as any of you are. Was she playing the game, no; was she backing the opponent, no. Then how is she responsible? I fail to understand the mind-set of a certain section of the Indian society who is so swift in passing judgments and blaming women for all that is bad! I mean she did not even ‘predict’ the victory of the Indian team in the semi-finals. In fact, the fish did, so why not blame the fish, instead!!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Little Yellow Flower on the Window Sill

A gloomy day or a starry night I stare out through glassy eyes
I see and wonder what is the world like beyond the forbidden high
A doubt in my mind keeps popping up once in a while
Is this life good or just an illusion bright

The green meadows in the horizon call me with open arms
The cascading water of the stream sparkles with an enchanting charm
The murmur of the bees around makes a symphony of myriad sounds
The languid desultory donkey has no happiness bounds

As I see the carefree butterflies drifting in the wind
And smell the dulcet fragrance of the spring
I float into the ethereal world of exuberant felicity
Everywhere I see is serendipity and serendipity

Soon the penchant for a free life is engulfed in clouds of fear
Can I embrace the pain of wear and tear
The wind ripping me apart or the donkey munching me
The apathy of the bees or the brutality of the stream

Life is not always an incandescent halcyon
A placid river with resplendent sheen
It can slaughter dreams with a soundless shrill
Let me be a little yellow flower on the window sill 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Flour, Butter and Whisk-Part 2

So with the introductory disaster, gathering up my wits to bake for the second time, proved a more daunting challenge than I had anticipated. My friend, Indrani, who was a trained chocolatier and a baker, asked me to give it another try. She said of the like “success is most often achieved by those who do not know that failure is inevitable.” I told her that she was quoting, Coco Chanel. So she turned around, gave me a hint of a smug and said with her hands throwing up in the air dramatically, “the highest purpose of intellectual cultivation is to give a man a perfect knowledge and mastery of his own inner self!” Okay, she was quoting again but that wasn't a bad speech after all. However, I don’t know whether it was her inspirational speech or my zeal to prove to my mom that I wasn’t that bad, gave me a renewed enigma of hope. But this time, I was determined about not deploying a premixed mixture. Probably I thought it wasn’t made for my level of expertise!

Anyway, since I wasn’t sure from where to start, I turned back to the most reliable source of information, ‘You Tube’. But, the most reliable source, had a barrage of choices to offer, and my head was spinning by the end of the day. Spirits dampened, motivation deluged, and reality setting in with a looming question, where do I start from?

I settled for the basic sponge cake recipe, more so, because it was the easiest of all.

So, now that the recipe was marked, the next probable step was to get hold of all the ingredients. Now, remember my first tryst with the whole cake making business started with a premixed mixture; hence, I wasn’t quite sure of what actually goes into the cake. Yes, I had seen my mom baking, but, who cares about the foreplay, I was interested only in the end result.

Finally, that all the ingredients were in place, I was ready to get ‘my hands dirty’! So, in went the components one by one and finally my batter was ready. I gave it a quick mix with the ‘whisk’, pulled it up to check the consistency. Satisfied with the viscosity of the batter, I lined the baking tray with stripes of butter, and dashed it with some flour and poured my batter into it. As before, I wasn’t giving myself an invisible pat on my back or silently congratulating myself on my accomplishment. Rather I sent a quiet prayer above, put my baking tray inside the oven, and hoped it wasn’t a disaster, again.

I was nervously tramping back and forth the entire perimeter of my kitchen, biting my nails off, hoping this wasn’t the end of my baking adventure. My cake had been baking for about 15 min now. I was calling Indrani every 5 minutes giving her a live telecast of the bake. Her reassuring words were falling in deaf ears. My mind was busy procrastinating the degree of the catastrophe!!  Finally, I smelled the cake. A sweet aroma which was so indulging in itself that I could drop all my work, and wait impatiently to dig in. An aroma which could make anyone feel better about the world.

I was fretfully hovering in front of the oven, waiting restlessly for my cake to cool down inside the oven, before bringing it out and checking on it. The 20 minutes wait was making me jittery and anxious. Probably it was the longest 20 minutes of my life. Finally, the interminable wait was over. There was a sudden mood of frenzy and magic all around the room as I opened the oven door. The billowing smell of crystallised sugar and flour still lingered in the air like jet trails. And then there was the smell; the smell of hope and fulfillment, the kind of smell that brought people home, the smell that had the imminent strength of swiping people off their feet.   

As I sliced the cake, the hedonistic pleasure that I was deriving with each slice, was inundating me from within. I was so swamped up in the feeling of accomplishment and gratification, that I was carried away into a state of oblivion. As I took the first bite, time stopped. I simply closed my eyes and let the cake melt in my mouth. And as it did, realisation of the extent of indulgence that ‘baking’ brought in my mom, suddenly seemed meaningful. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Flour, Butter and Whisk-Part 1

What do you think when you hear the three words: Flour, butter and whisk? Well certainly ‘Cake’. What did I think when I heard these words: waste of time.

Being a baker wasn’t always a word in my dictionary. I found baking a waste of time when there were a plethora of choices in the stores. I remember as a young girl, I would see my mother with earnest intent removing her pots and pans from the rack to reveal her baking bowl from behind, eyes brightly shining up to the view, putting it down carefully on the work top and getting ready to get her hands dirty. She would then take out the ingredients one by one: flour, butter/oil, sugar, vanilla, ‘the whisk’, and finally a war cry, ‘today is cake day’! I wondered what was so mystical about this that would make my mom, an otherwise earthly being, transform into a creepy, out of the world anthropoid the moment she saw her ‘baking bowl’. I wondered what was so indulging in ‘baking a cake’! Whether it was a birthday celebration, or a night before travel, baking always transformed my mom. And I wondered!!
Often my mom would be whining and reiterating as to why I do not sit down, and learn the ‘art of baking a cake’. I would in turn yell, like any other teenager, ‘I have better things to do than bake a cake Mom’!!What better things, well that is a separate topic of discussion, altogether. She would say that one day I would be having kids and if they wanted to eat some home baked cakes then what would I do? I said, ‘who cares’…

I remember the first time I attempted in testing my baking skills, I promptly went to the baking store, got myself a premixed cake mixture and walked home feeling accomplished. Reaching home I enthusiastically took out ‘My Baking Bowl’ and sat down to mix. We had recently got a convection microwave and I thought what better way to test the feature than 'Bake a cake'! It isn’t that difficult after all, is it!! So I gave the mixture a good mix in the blender, poured some milk into it, added some chocolate chips and Voila!! My cake batter was ready to go into the oven!! I had followed the ‘method of preparation’ on the carton quite diligently. No room for any mistakes. So off to the next step; greased the pan, smeared it with streaks of butter, and dusted it with some flour. Then I poured in the batter into the pan, with a slight hesitation of whether the batter was right as it was a bit too runny. But soon I fanned away my fears and gave myself an invisible pat on my back for this accomplishment, and placed the pan inside the oven. Temperature set, time noted, a job well done!!!

My cake had been baking for almost 30 min when I emerged from behind a book to inspect on the progress. It was a moment of truth, my moment of truth. Moment that would put all fears of my mom, to rest. Moment that would hereby prove that I am not a lousy baker after all.

Even before I entered the living room I could smell something burning. And since there wasn’t anything cooking apart from the cake, it was quite obvious what was. The living room was filled with smoke. I quickly turned off the microwave, and waited patiently for the heat to subside so that I could further on the inspection and introspect what could have possibly gone wrong with my batter, and my cake!! I did everything by the book, then, what possibly could have gone wrong? As I removed the pan from the oven, the room was again filled with smoke. I slowly took out the baking tray and all that I saw was a black, burnt, mass. Cake!!Not even near it!! The living room smelled of burnt cake the entire week, and I proved a lousy baker. However, I opined and it stayed, ‘cake from a store is much better than baking one’…Sigh!!!

Friday, March 6, 2015

India's daughter - A film well made, a title badly chosen

It was a day long tussle between uploading and taking down. A bold documentary, which has now caught the 'living room syndrome' of a nation, just as the event, which led up to the making of this documentary in the the first place. There had been something cataclysmic about the horrific, brutal rape and subsequent death of a para medical student on 16th December 2012. An event which had shaken us from within. It is not that it was the first time, not that it happens only in India, not that it was the only paradox that Indian women or women in general have to go through everyday, but what shuddered us up was the extent of brutality it involved. The extent of inhumanity involved. Not only her modesty was violated, but also her organs which would have still functioned and made her live was torn and pulled out brutally from her body, wrapped in a piece of cloth, and thrown out. As if it didn't matter, her modesty, her views, her right to life, it just did not matter. What mattered was the perpetrators right to violate her modesty in the name of culture, violate her body in the name of teaching her a lesson on how to be a woman, violate her right to life. The documentary was well made till it was given its title. Is rape an 'Indian' event? No it is not. Rape is a worldwide phenomenon just like global warming. It is not restricted to a specific country, or religion, or race. 
However, even though atrocities towards women isn’t country centric or religion centric, yet when a documentary made by BBC on the mentioned crime that caught the imagination of not only the people in India but also of the world, brought out the hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed ‘superior class’. Patriarchal values and mentality is so deep rooted in our society that whenever anyone tries to hold up a mirror to show the patriarch the real image, what he rightly does is close his eyes pretending if he doesn’t see it no one does. If we want westerners to know about our ‘Indian culture’ let them know it the way it is. Why do we want to customise the way they see us. When we agree to give a visa to them to come and visit us, then why take away the right of analysis. These people come from countries where they are allowed to hold opinions, come here, see things, and make judgements. And if they see rape and religious intolerance then so be it. May be you are in a denial mode but he isn’t. What are you ashamed of? Are you ashamed of your culture where if a woman is raped then she has invited it? Are you ashamed because you think that she was raped because she chose to dress differently from your mother? She was raped because she chose to live her life independently? Or you are ashamed because you think that by redressing that rape by marriage to the culprit is what your so called culture is. You are ashamed because you are scared that the world chooses to differ. You are ashamed because you do not hear an echo of your school of thought with the world. You are ashamed that the sick mentality of your sons will come threadbare. A perception which sees women as only sex objects. Objects who do not have any voice of their own. Objects who should act and dress in a certain way that you want them to. Where in the name of celebration and right you choose to violate her body and her emotions and she does not even have a right to protest. Where in the name of being a husband marital rapes take place. Where in the name of being a teacher a student’s trust is broken. What culture are you talking of where the ‘moral guardians’ of our society preach that a certain section of the society in the name of religion should go and rape women of other religion even if it means raping dead ones. What cultures are you talking of where you regard a bovine as your mother and rape an actual one? What culture are you talking of which is so bigoted in its thought procedure? What culture are you talking of where we defend ‘our sons’ saying that boys will be boys and they will make mistakes. Mistakes which cost a human not only her honour but also her life sometimes; when if spared mistakes which will traumatise her all her life. Mistakes which allow the perpetrators take away her right to her own body. Yes, it is a mistake; an unforgivable mistake, an unpardonable mistake. A mistake which is the result of your underlying sick mentality. And when the ‘westerner’ rubs it on your face you shout ‘BAN IT’!!
Whether we choose not to see our ‘culture’ so blatantly doesn’t change anything. India or elsewhere, every society needs a sea change. A change in the way men look at women. Change in the way husbands treat their wives. Change in the attitude where we not only tell our daughters to behave like a woman, but also where we tell our sons how to treat a woman. The only valid and prime objection to this two days old drama is that the case is under subjugation. Hence, it is important for restricting it from main stream media lest it might influence the logical end. But banning it is unacceptable. Reasons like it was shoddily researched, or it has a potential of unleashing nationwide misogyny and misandry, or it demeans national honour or will incite mobs is not only uncalled for but also atrocious. Legal objections to the interview might seem reasonable when it stretches on having an impact on impressionable minds. The unremorseful accused who instead accuses the victim for his demeaning attitudes and actions. The blatant sick nauseated mind-set of the lawyers who are representing the accused. The parents who weren’t even sure of whether their child was alive or not defend him by refusing to be accountable for his actions. But are we Indians a bunch of thumb sucking imbeciles whose way of thinking can be indoctrinated by a documentary? Why do we say it is voyeurism whenever a rape victim or her family comes forward to take it further? These films might not bring in a change but certainly these films, documentaries, and articles push forward to bring in some change on a war footing. They are crucial contributors in bringing in this change. They are like catalysts which will help in bringing in the change. Change against sexual assault. Change in the mindset. We seem to assume that the fight ends when we bring in the laws; often the FIRs are the first steps to the long walk towards freedom and justice for the victim who is besieged by character assassination to oblivion.  

The film, with all its flaws speaks truth so blatantly that the ‘Indian Patriarchal Society’ feels threatened, that no wonder the most offended are the Indian men. Delhi is the living room of the ‘elite’. It articulates the thoughts and the aspirations of the rest of the country. They are the ones who own the decision making syndrome of the country’s population. That way no one can question their superiority in governing the masses. And if that means curbing the truth, because it is unacceptable in general, then it is the ownership of the ‘Elite’ to make sure. But however unacceptable the truth is, closing your eyes and thinking that no one is watching is not helping. Everyone is watching. The country is watching. The world is watching. And if the government is determined to develop India, then it must start empowering its women and empowerment will come in when it makes sure each and every woman feels safe in her own motherland. Everytime she leaves her home, she should not be looking constantly over her shoulders. She should walk the road without a care for the world. The documentary is a very well made one. The only flaw is the title. Rape in not ‘Indian’. Rape is an international crime. ‘Nirbhaya: The story of a daughter’ is what I think it should be named or renamed.