Monday, August 26, 2013

After many months of restraint, a crib post about rape in India.

We vent and we vent and we vent, but it’s just so much hot air blowing in the wind. The more we talk about the rapes, the more ludicrous the “theories” get, and the more I find myself raging on people’s FB statuses with long-winded comments. I realized, to make myself feel better, I should write down most of what I feel about this issue and let it join all the innumerable other blog posts, articles, tweets, and status messages about rape in India swirling about the worldwide web.
First of all, we Indians need to divorce sex from rape. Very often I see that people can’t see much of a difference, which is where all the talk about whether SHE was drunk (the lady molested by a huge mob and videotaped after she walked out of a pub), what SHE was wearing, what SHE was doing, what her character was like (our honourable Chief Minister’s comment that the victim was a prostitute) arises. Rape is rape. No woman invites rape because it is, to make an understatement, mentally and physically acutely PAINFUL.
Let’s cut through all the “was she a good girl?” bullshit by taking a woman on the extreme end of our moral spectrum. A rape of a prostitute is still rape, because it has happened without her consent. It doesn’t matter whether she was walking down a lonely street at the time, in an advanced state of inebriation, and in revealing clothes. If a woman is attacked and raped, no amount of harping on why she was there and how she looked at her aggressors before the attack can change that fact.
A normal man might desire her, a disgusting man might approach her for negotiations, but it’s only a man who is not quite right that will think of raping her. Can you see the difference here?
I have seen a lot of ranting about how porn and the casting couch and a culture of trophy wives all cause rape. The irony is these writers are falling into the same trap as the extremely conservative, by confusing sex (even the most unsavoury kind) with rape. I don’t deny that there is something fundamentally wrong with a society that objectifies and commodifies women in this way, and its woman-hating nature is expressed in its most extreme form as rape. But I don’t see a direct connection: because in my mind, one is still the selling of sex for money (gross as that is) and the other is rape.

Others (in so many words) seek to vilify men for desiring women in the first place, to which I say can we please stop running around like headless chickens and FOCUS.

Secondly, most people (shockingly—so many women I’ve spoken to!) confuse a lapse of judgement (a woman getting into a car with three male acquaintances, for example) with ‘getting what was coming to her’. “What could she expect?” they say, and dismiss the rape off-hand. Are we then saying that all men are potential rapists who are only waiting to be presented with an opportunity by careless women? Is that how low our opinion is of our male relatives, friends and colleagues? And are we saying that a woman is equally if not more culpable in her violation, if she doesn’t cringe and look over her shoulder whenever she is around men?
Which of us pass the test? Have we not all been out past ten pm? Yes, on many, many occasions; often without male bodyguards to “protect our virtue.” Have we not worn provocative clothes? Of course! Since anything a woman wears is provocative to a rapist because he’s not looking at what the woman is wearing. It is seriously time our police stopped asking the question. The idea that a gang of five; who have the criminal intent and savagery to rape a woman after tying up her male companion, and then make her clean up the crime scene; would have walked away if she was wearing a sari is preposterous. I don’t even know how people can believe this.
Many women, in fact, are so sure they will be subjected to an agnipariksha if they come forward, that they decide against further torture for something as unlikely as justice. Women I know have whispered behind their hands to me, doubting the motives of rape victims saying,” why would she announce such a shameful thing to the world? She must want money and publicity!” The result of which you can see n the most recent Mumbai rape case, where it has emerged that the same group of men have raped before and had thought this one would go unreported as well. Perhaps if the previous rape victims had not feared social stigma and come forward, our brave photojournalist would have been briskly going about her work today, finishing up on the assignment that took her to the godforsaken scene of the crime.

So, you’re saying, you talk big, but what are you actually DOING to change this culture?
Admittedly not much. Jeet and I tried to start a petition to make self-defense classes compulsory for girls in schools – no one signed up, I wonder what the problem was.  I argue with whoever expresses the aforementioned opinions to me. However awkward the conversation is. If I have a son, I will not teach him that sex is bad, desire is bad and thereby repress it in such a way that it suddenly expresses itself in a horribly deviant way.
Of course, no parent wants a libertine for offspring but the former must learn to acknowledge that normal young people will have sexual feelings. If Indian parents carry on like having a girlfriend/boyfriend is a crime, they will continue to confuse romance, sex, and rape in the minds of India’s sons.

I have a daughter however, and I’m not going to lie, until I see this shift happen – I will advise her to throw away all her fundamental rights as an Indian citizen and cower at home, protected first by her father and then by her husband; because society doesn't really care about her.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 2: Diya, Shaun and Covent Garden

Day 2:
Diya, my friend from University, and her diminutive husband Shaun, took a train to London from Sheffield to attend the races at Ascot and visit the perambulating Basu family (us). We agreed to meet at the British Museum at the sensible hour of 12 PM, because we were getting over our long journey, and Mia was still very under the weather from her cold.
We reached at 12-30, anticipating a lot of tsk-ing about Indian Standard Time, only to hear Shaun had fallen ill and that they would be delayed.
One doesn’t wait around with a toddler straining at the leash. (Purely a figure of speech; though I got over my horror at the idea of child leashes once Mia developed the habit of dashing off the moment you let go of her. Walk a mile in a parent’s shoes, and all the things that shocked you seem sensible very soon.)
So we decided to begin our tour of the sprawling British museum sans our friends. The Pompeii exhibit was the reason why Diya and Shaun had proposed meeting here in the first place, so we headed there first. Tickets were sold out till 4 PM, so we decided to explore the rest of their extensive collection instead. To quote an Englishman I spoke to there, “Everything that we stole from the rest of the world.”
This was a week before the MoMA episode, so we innocently believed we had Mia’s vote for this course of action.
We ended up quickly rolling a loudly wailing stroller from one hushed, venerable room to another, as though the target was to have been in every room rather than concentrate on the artefacts. Luckily, photography was allowed here; and Jeet took enough pictures for me to pore over at length back in Bangalore and consider myself satisfied that I really had been to the British Museum.
Shaun and Diya arrived when we were in the gift shop, by which time Mia had given up on us and gone to sleep. We quickly decided to head to a pub to have a pub lunch (and perhaps some tea for Poor Shaun). In quick succession we rolled a sleeping Mia through one door of The Lolloping Lion, then The Prancing pony, The Sleepy Hunter, The Ugly Duckling and the Frolicsome Ferret and out the other as all the tables were taken. We finally found a cafĂ© run by a battalion of Russian-accented bodybuilders. We decided we would let Diya do the ordering because we didn’t speak Russian-English or Bodybuilder.
Lunch of excellent lasagne and coffee done, Shaun went off to keep his date with the museum while the rest of us struck out towards Covent Garden. I have rarely encountered a more charming spot; with its bazaarish ambiance and the relatively inexpensive little curios. This time we brought away a stubby, disgruntled-looking Queen Victoria about the size of my thumb. (Yes, yes ‘Anglophile’, etc…point me to such an adorable little Tipu Sultan or Aurangzeb who looks like he had a bad fish for lunch, and I‘ll be glad to add to my collection.)  
We located the Tintin shop, and took such a while deciding between the Tintin figurine in a space suit and Tintin and Snowy looking amazedly at an enormous mushroom that Mia decided to hurry us up by trying to grab all the bow-bows (figurines of Snowy) she could see. “She’s not very well and it’s nearly naptime…” I explained as I restrained my flailing offspring. The butch lady at the counter raised her eyebrows in a ‘I-really-don’t-give-a-crap, if-she-breaks-it-you-bought-it’ look. Tintin with the mushroom thingy it was then and out we hurried, where Mia reverted to patient tourist baby mode (albeit a slightly snotty one). 
Even though we’d had a full meal about five minutes ago, Diya announced we should go to one of her favourite places in Covent Garden, a place frequented by the British since Arthurian times, praised by Shakespeare in Corialanus, and Jane Austen in Emma. The Masala Zone. Though I sneer at most Indians who land on foreign shores only to frenetically ask around for the nearest dal-chawal joint (We were approached by two such individuals outside the Staten Island Ferry in New York, looking decidedly malnourished); We had a good chinwag over the excellent chaat platter and masala chai; and all four of us licked our spoons clean. Mia did such a thorough job with her spoon that I worried about erosion.

Unfortunately Diya and Shaun had to catch a train soon after; so after a few hurried pictures together and hugs we made our way back to the lovely home of our hosts – tired but happy.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Day 9: The Museum of Modern Art in New York

Day 9, MoMA, New York.

Jeet had visited the MoMA when he’d gone to New York the previous year. He averred that I must see it since I’ve always been a sucker for museums (I spent two days at the Salarjung in Hyderabad; dragging a very helpful but flagging Maya from room to room.). It would solve the problem of the incessant drizzle; and we figured since Mia was fighting fit and phlegm-free at last; she would be more receptive to culture and intellectual nourishment than she was at the British Museum a week earlier.

Hope springs eternal in a parent’s breast.

After having gawked at the Fifth Avenue shops (the buildings and the entire avenue apparently designed for extremely fashionable giants), and Rockefeller Centre, we started looking for Moma. We asked a few cops who said they didn’t know. A big guy with tattoos stood on a street corner selling souvenirs. We asked him where it was, and just as he shook his head regretfully that he didn’t know; an artistic-looking guy with a mane of white hair, who was hurrying past, stopped and said, “it’s on the corner of 5th and 12th”, and pointed back in the direction we’d come from.

We retraced our steps and stood dithering on an inside street. A Jeffrey-Archer-type gentleman in a suit and briefcase stopped and asked us, “Do you need directions? Can I help you?”

I could’ve hugged him. How nice can people get? I stop and give directions only if people ask me. I would never dream of actually asking people who look mildly confused if they need help! For all he knew those were our natural expressions. (To be honest, that IS mine on most mornings. Jeet and Mia look fairly together at all times. But the Nice Guy couldn’t know that.)

MoMA was really crowded, but the layout (possibly because it was much smaller than the British Museum) was easier to negotiate. We started at the top, and I spent a thrilling 5 minutes gaping at Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

We quickly agreed that since Jeet had seen it all before, he would look after Mia and I could browse the walls in peace.

We had not accounted for the fact that our daughter had decided she would not have another museum inflicted on her without a fight.

Left to myself I happily pottered from one wall to another. I noticed an incredibly huge bouncer-type person striding purposefully towards somebody out of my line of vision. “Poor wretch” I smirked to myself as I turned towards a beautiful Cezanne.

“You can’t keep the stroller there! You have to take it with you!” I peered around a painting, and  saw that my husband had given in to Mia’s pleas and let her trot about the floor while they waited for me, leaving the stroller next to a row of seats. Once the scary man had moved on, I went over and agreed to roll the empty stroller around with me like a crazy bag lady looking for a dumpster. Jeet followed Mia around at a swift trot as she hippety-hopped through the rooms.

It was an admirable arrangement while we looked at the paintings. When we tried to stuff her back into the stroller for the installation art exhibits; she simply stood up and tried to walk around with the stroller strapped to her back;  like a cute, pink-green-and-brown tortoise.

So she skipped through the teetering art exhibits; and my already fraying nerves stretched taut at the thought of a pile of crap (I’m sorry, that would be “installation art” – spell-check isn’t as good as it used to be), valued at a sum equal to the GDP of a small third-world nation, crashing to the floor after Mia hippety-hopped too close to it.

We must’ve set some kind of Guinness Book Record getting through each floor (of course we couldn’t simply leave!). We would cry “Done!” and dash to the elevator with a sigh of relief before Mia could touch anything.

On the last floor, (the ground floor, since we were working our way down.) I was finally beginning to relax. Just as we entered a room of photography exhibits, a huge guy with the neck and shoulders of the NYSE bull raised his black-suited arm and beckoned towards us. Visions of exhibits collapsing like dominoes behind us as we proceeded -- unaware and smiling-- from room to room, flashed through my mind.

“Save yourselves!” I hissed to Jeet. “Make sure Mia gets her driving license before her 20th birthday.” I squared my shoulders and walked purposefully up to him. I peered up at the ebony mountain in what I hoped was an innocently enquiring fashion. A mother would do anything to protect her young, even if they are wanton hippety-hoppers.

“I was just saying ‘Hi,’” he explained, gesturing again. “A LOT of people seem to misinterpret it when I do it.”
“Oh haha, imagine that…” I laughed weakly.
“See? Your daughter gets it.”
I turned to see Mia give us a cheery wave, looking for all the world like her mother didn’t just have a brush with Gitmo for destruction of American property.

I called them over and the big man coo-ed and clucked over Mia like a big, fat hen.
“Bye, bye” he crooked his fingers in the same gesture. Mia waved back. “See? SHE can tell I’m waving.”
“I guess she’s the only one without a guilty conscience,” I said, and we sped off.

Jeet and I agreed we’d shown Mia enough museums for the time being. She can visit the next one once she gets her driver’s license.