Friday, August 23, 2013


It's here. Yet again.

Never felt so helpless in my life ever before.

We all can overcome personal problems: a bad marriage, divroce, a bad job, a bad relationship, bad finances - anything. But when it comes to the falling rupee against the dollar or women getting raped, kids being molested, there's nothing we can do, except to feel outraged, tired, disturbed, and ultimately, helpless. For crimes against humanity, we look at the people who control the law and order or the economics of the nation. And it is not a pretty picture.

Every problem has a root. The problem of gang rape - especially 16 Dec 2012 and 22 August 2013 -
are deep rooted in our social and mental ethos. It's hard even to blame. Boys from affluent families don't do such things. Yet boys from downtrodden families go on to achieve a great many things. Not all Muslims are bad people. Not all women want attention. Not all cops take bribe. It's so hard to generalize. So where must we begin to understand the problem? It is important because we must solve it.

Family is the basic unit, or so we were taught in Sociology. The values a person imbibes - or fails to - determines his character in the long run. And no matter how uncomfortable our families make us feel, we always return to our nest to trace our first emotions and reactions.

So what goes wrong with our mentality? Didn't the mothers of rapists teach their sons to respect women? I find it hard to understand that a sexually deprived man would go out and rape a lone woman.

Man cannot fall to such levels. But he has. Is sex so important that he is willing to beat the genitals of the opposite sex, that would take a woman's life? Is anything worth that? What exactly goes wrong in the minds of these criminals?

We hear of suicide bombers taking the lives of innocent people. This justification of mass killing can be found in the hands of a calculated, misled belief and conveniently misconstrued doctrines of religion, economics and politics. What about rape, crimes against women and molestation of new born babies? What justification can lie beneath this lust? And to what end?

Why cannot a woman go out and watch a movie with a friend/ lover/ colleague at 7PM in the Capital? Why cannot a woman go and wander, explore for aesthetics at 6PM in the country's financial capital and the most developed city? We all know the lengths photo-journalists go to capture a stunning scene that holds our breaths on magazine covers. Why cannot a woman take a lone bike ride on a highway, see the sky complete its journey from dusk to dawn?

There were answers to these questions. A woman must always look after her shoulder, must not wander alone at odd hours or step out in the night, or apply make-up, or wear anything that would make a man want to lust after her. So will wearing a burqa rid our society of all the crimes? What about molestation of kids aged 6? What kind of make-up do they apply? Or what kind of soliciting clothes do 5 month old babies wear that makes men want to violate them?

Or a woman is only allowed to live - and not met by female infanticide - for the sake of amusing men, for procreation, for doing laundry, cooking. She cannot go and watch movies, she cannot be a daring photojournalist, a traveler. She is here to meet the demands made by man. She is a mother, sister, a wife. That's all. Is she not a human being, a person in her own right?

A man can walk safely at night, alone. At the most, he might be mugged, or murdered. But he won't be violated or left to die because of his biological anatomy.

And though we didn't ask our maker for this anatomy, we will have to always look over our shoulder when we walk the streets of this country.

Monday, February 25, 2013

"When the stars go blue"

However impossible it may seem to know that there are somethings that are still sacred, and the heart's always scared of spoiling things, people and their spirits.

Lately, the pursuit of love - so synonymous with happiness - has become that. A fearful path. It is a fearful one because there's always a question.. a possibility what would happen if things went bad and what all things would be at stake when the destruction (that seems alarmingly possible) happen. It will become a catalyst to destroy a spirit - a yearning to do better and be better in life, because that is what the ultimate purpose is: to rise. Just, simply, rise.

We have often heard as much that life is a journey where we are supposed to make mistakes - and learn from them and try never to repeat them. If falling in love is a mistake, how does one avoid it? Why is this path the most difficult to walk?

The thing is, we can make mistakes in finding love... not look in the right places- but how in the world are we to know which place is right? They say the heart will guide us, but what happens when you start living so much in fear that you overpower your heart. Translate opportunities into threats. Risks, that will destroy other people's lives, emotions, perspectives, spirit if you were wrong.

That is a huge responsibility. I think it's a part of one's integrity, then, to be hated, or worse, to be misunderstood. You're just doing the world a favor.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lincoln - Movie Review

I've always been scared of watching Steven Spielberg's movies. They are unnaturally and unnecessarily long; I seem to agree with Alfred Hitchcock's view: the duration of a film must be directly proportional to the bowel holding capacity of men. But then, there was Daniel Day Lewis too, and I hadn't seen him since 'My Left Foot'. That's what prompted me to watch this film in the first place.

Now, here's a personal confession - I loved Daniel Day Lewis since I first saw him in 'My Left Foot', and I don't know till day how he really looks. It's just hard to imagine him anything beside the character or role he plays. And that must be the true hallmark of an artist: he has no face. And that's where I find affirmation to my personal motto: handsome is what handsome does. Looks really have nothing to do with it. I don't even want to find out how he looks, there's just no inclination.

Now, about the movie. This film is an extensive summary of the political and social atmosphere in 1865 in America for the abolishing slavery. The best description of the plot, the movie and what really happened then is provided by the party head for Radical Republic front in the Republican Party, by Thaddeus Stevens, -

The greatest measure of the Nineteenth Century. Passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America. 
The movie flows at an appropriate speed, with a few witty sequences, enough to keep you engaged and entertained. The screenplay was also intense, the make-up and characterization was perfect. I am confident for Daniel Day Lewis' Best Actor Oscar; but the film doesn't deserve as Best Director or a Best Film nomination. Surprisingly, there were some hitches in direction and production values. I wonder if the Academy didn't notice or skipped it... 'Cloud Atlas' was a better choice for both Best Direction and Best Film categories. But am used to it now: every year one such masterpiece gets the famous Oscar snub (Remember INCEPTION?)

Tommy Lee Jones did great justice to the role of Thaddeus Stevens, complimenting Daniel Day Lewis beautifully on screen. His dialogue delivery was the best, bringing laughter in an otherwise "serious, war drama". His earnest retorts were sometimes more interesting than the quotes and short stories by Lincoln himself. Joseph Gordon-Lewitt once again made me feel he's over-rated, as Lincoln's first born.

Apart from the history lesson, there's so much to be learnt here. The very things that we take for granted so easily, without a thought, was actually thought of worth fighting for - and dying for - back then. One speaker took the floor and remarked opposing President Lincoln's 13th amendment to abolish slavery, " [...] He's asking us to free these Negroes today... tomorrow he'll ask us to give them voting rights... what's next? Voting rights for women???!"

That moment everyone in the House of Representatives stood up unanimously against the illogical, "unnatural" thought on the mention of voting rights for women. Can we imagine what kind of a world it would have been had Lincoln's 13th amendment would have never seen the light of the day? No, we cannot fathom such a travesty. Because we are far too used to freedom and the idea of being equal. Many women still pass their right to vote as if it was nothing. But it is certainly a perspective to see men dying for a principle... and hundred thousand corpses being laid down for yet another principle of justice.

Abraham Lincoln was corrupt too, but that corruption was for a purpose - something higher to aspire for; and I can't help but contextualizing the man and his principles in the times that we live in today. If we thought our political system is bad, well take a look at that social and political environment - where they made history out of a challenge so immense and so important. If you thought your own life was hell, take a look at the conflict and curse of being a man, husband, father and a President.

The job of a compass is to point to true North. That's all it does. Now, it doesn't tell you about the rocks, cliffs, and swamps that you might encounter while pursuing that direction. And if you, let's say, get stuck in the swamp, what is the point of knowing true North??"

Am just glad to have my idea of a true man converging with the man and the man who played his character.

This film shows us how important history is, and why honesty is such a virtue even today, when there's none to be had or given.

And then there were people who snored, and the ones who left the theater after 10 mins. Or so.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Government scared of People: A rare sight

This is an important time for India and her people - both men and women.

This is not just standing up for women's right where rape only angers the female species. Even a man will be a father and a husband to someone - so will he wait for the "rarest of the rare" rape category to happen before he is assured that the rapist will be awarded a death sentence?

So as the country assembles at one of its most prestigious monuments, the India Gate, New Delhi, the government, media and the police gets a feel of the very people it hopes to subdue with the "system". Surprisingly, the media is supporting the cops - "They (the cops) had to fire cannons, because the public was pelting stones at them." Will someone ask why the people had to pelt in the first place?

Rahul Gandhi says that emotions cannot drive decisions. What is that even supposed to mean? Wait a minute, I know what he means. He means that we must all go home and sit and watch Dabang 2 and wait for the government to draft some anti-rape laws... like punishing rapists on "rarest of the rare cases".

The court is sentencing 14 days' jail to the rapists until identification and confession, under strict protection because the government is afraid if the people get hold of these rapists then they will kill the latter. It is interesting to note that for once, in our country the government and police are afraid of the people. Also interesting is the paradox: the police are now protecting rapists against the people.

Amid all this, people are asking the quintessential question: whether mob should drive political laws? Whether or not this is a case of democracy going in to the anarchy mode? I have a question for these people: Imagine what that rape victim must have gone through that she is still in the ICU even after a week, and cannot walk. The doctor today said she needed more stitches. Is this a picture of democracy?

The government should understand that people are, by definition, driven by apathy and indifference. When that basic shred of dignity is threatened, there will be violence, unrest and these protests. I am not justifying this. But then this has happened and we must analyze as to why people are driven to this point. Hopefully, we should find our answers there. All they care is about their right to life and luxury. The government cannot take this for granted. They cannot take forever to draft laws that must be for the protection of women's safety - it could be your mother or my sister.

I think India must have gone to protest the very day when the first public rape had come to light. If not for the anger of we, the people, this case would again be sidelined - by the media and the government who by default, loves to procrastinate. And we Indians, know that better.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Delhi Rape Case: "She Deserved it" ?

Ours is a nation where a rape occurs every 22 minutes. And only 25% of the reported rapists get convicted.

As usual, there is a huge public outcry about the Delhi rape case. MP Jaya Bachchan speaking out loud about the case, and about the victim, ".. while the media and press will forget this incident in weeks, months, the girl is scarred for life." MP Ram Jethmalani said, "If you want the Capital (of India) to be crime-free, then first take out the biggest criminal out of the Capital: Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar."

This case has opened up a Pandora's box: from the way a woman dresses, to whether or not she should go out with male friends to watch movies at 8PM, to the police system in India that actually promotes crime, to the way men treat women as sex objects to the loose legal fabric in India concerning rape and molestation to Bollywood women gyrating to sleazy songs that actually encourage men to see women as nothing but objects of sex.

This Reuters blog post caught my attention. Why is there a huge outcry about the cultural values of Indian woman? What kind of a country can have the moral right to even question this? The kind of country that makes a heroine out of porn stars (Sunny Leone)? The kind of people who will make super-stars out of people like Katrina Kaif that have zero acting capabilities but huge tits? The kind of people who flock to the theatres to watch movies just because of item songs? Will these people determine how a woman should dress-up and whether or not she must watch movies with a male friend or not? Or will they decide if she should have a boyfriend? Will they decide when to punish her for her "indulgence"?

Not all women are fueled by insecurity to dress less and show more skin to attract more movies, more money and more fame, or even more guys. A woman could dress up to feel beautiful. Is this the way to appreciate a woman's physical beauty? If the entire society has no problem with pre-marital sex, who stands up and says that the girl should not have stepped out to watch movies with a male friend or acquaintance? Why the pretense?

Then there's the curious case of the involvement of police officers in their areas. A police officer, is by default, the image of power to common people like us. In Delhi, this is the "system": Walk in to a police station, place 50 grands on the table and tell the cop that you're going to murder someone. There won't be a FIR against you.

And let's say you the aggrieved party, you'll discover that most cops across Maharashtra (the most law and orderly state in the country) do not know how to draft a FIR. Cops in Mumbai do not know the difference between a FIR and NCR (Non-Cognizable Report). This is based out of my own personal experience from cops and courts and all things dirty.

It seems that Ram Jethmalani indeed has a point. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit and Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar are to be blamed. Over the past couple of days, some people in my interaction have come to believe that the Indian society needs to adopt the Deterrent Type of Punishment: In the areas where a rape has occurred, publicly shoot the head inspector. The next person who occupies that office, will be scared. As far as the men (lack of a better word) who rape and think they can get away with it, are concerned, they must be publicly castrated or shot. At India Gate.

I have personally never been able to reason to myself if I support death penalty, or if I would endorse a gory punishment - even to those who deserve it. Perhaps it is the stupid romantic in me. There are some who said that they would want to set themselves on fire right in front of the President of India's residence - just to convey the thought that a life of a basic integrity in this country is so impossible.

Who are the real culprits? We are. We take it lying down.

"Where you live should not decide/ Whether you live/ or Whether you Die...
Three to a Bed/ Sister Ann she says/ Dignity Passes By...."
- U2

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Women's Rights, Human Rights: A Joke?

This is the true story of a girl from a town in Rewari, Haryana, fighting for her right to life in Mumbai.

Dolly Dabla turned turned 18 years old this August. She was three years old when her mother died due to a prolonged fever. The reasons for her death still remain uncertain to this very day. Shortly after, Dolly's father remarried.

Her step-mother was not comfortable, it seems, to have a three-year-old Dolly stay with her father and his new family. The step-mother had three kids from a previous marriage, who were accepted by Dolly's father. But Dolly was not allowed a mother or a real family. So it was decided that she stay with relatives from her paternal side, namely, her paternal grandmother, aunt (elder sister of her father), and uncles- Chachaji and Tauji. Her paternal grand mother expired soon.

Dolly's maternal aunts and grand parents asked her father to hand over the child's custody to them, assuring him that they will take good care of her. But her paternal aunt and father refused.

Domestic Violence & Abuse
As Dolly grew up, she was subjected to verbal abuse on a daily basis. Her younger paternal uncle (Chachaji) even beat her up occasionally  She was made to do all household work from a very young age. She used to cook food for everybody in the family: from preparing vegetables to chapatis. The family didn't have a proper gas system, so she made food on a chulha. Her aunt's son, who is in his early 20's is often picked up the local cops for suspected role in thievery and burglary.

Irregular School Fees
Dolly's father paid a certain amount to her paternal aunt (Buaji) and uncle (Tauji) as school fees. Most of the time they didn't submit the fees. There were arrears of her school fees and her Principal said that the admission would be cancelled due to that. Dolly mentioned this to her father, and he then started submitting school fees directly to the school. This angered her Tauji and he sued Dolly's father, his own brother, for not giving money. So the father started giving money back to the family for her school fees in order to avoid litigation. The family now became a little more careful, and started paying school fees on time, more or less.

For her Board Exam fees, her school friend's father paid around INR10,000/- for Dolly's fees or she would not have been allowed a seat in 10th Standard.

Lack of Support for Education
Dolly chose Commerce stream for her 11th and 12th Standard. She needed some additional support in the form of coaching classes or tuition for Accounts. Her Buaji and Tauji refused that. Since she did all the household work, from cooking to washing utensils and cleaning, she hardly had enough time or energy to concentrate on her studies. Nobody took her education seriously. It was only a mere formality to them since they were paid "school fees" by her father.

Her Daily Routine
She woke up early morning to attend school and began her day by making morning tea for everyone in the house. She was then permitted to get ready for school. She was not given breakfast or lunch by her aunt. When she requested her aunt to at least give her a glass of milk in the morning, the latter replied, "Go and ask your father to pay first." ("Jaake Apne baap se bol ki paise de.")

So the girl went empty stomach to school. Sometimes, when she had the money for lunch during school recess, she'd eat in the school canteen. Most of the times, she'd be too depressed to eat and would often skip lunch.

She would come back home after school and was made to prepare lunch for everyone. Tired and hungry, she did as told. Then after lunch, she'd clean the house - the usual dusting, sweeping and mobbing. As the evening dawned, she'd make dinner for everyone in the night. Sometimes, when she finished preparing dinner early, she'd watch TV. But Buaji would switch off the TV and scold her for completing the work too soon.

Daily Humiliation & Insults
Dolly's identity in the house was that of a maid. She was repeatedly humiliated in front of everyone in the neighbourhood for all the work that she did. In fact, in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai, people treat maids with respect, for the fear that they might never turn up again. But this was not the case with Dolly. She was treated much worse than a maid servant, for, the family knew there was no place and no one she could go to.

This year, on her eighteenth birthday, her Tauji told her, "It would have been better if I had petted a dog, instead of raising you." ("Tujh se acha toh mai kisi kutte ko paal leta") Dolly's father was sitting right next to him and he didn't say a word.

Negligence of Health
Earlier this year, her menstrual cycle continued for three months. There was constant bleeding and she felt very weak due to this continued loss of blood from the body. Her Buaji did not take her to the doctor; she instead called a witch-doctor (as she had done when Dolly's mother had taken ill after child-birth). That did nothing to improve her condition (nor her mother's, leading to her death). She suffered from excruciating pain and loss of blood. Even in that condition she was made to do all household work. Her face became pale-yellow due to loss of blood and no nutrition.

Complete Forced Isolation- No contact with maternal relatives or friends
She was not allowed to talk to anyone in the neighbourhood or even have female friends.

Her maternal aunt (Maasi) wanted to keep her with her for a few days during her school vacations, but Dolly's Buaji refused. She was only allowed to meet her maternal uncle (Mamaji) for 1-2 days in Delhi. Those days were relieving for her and often, she didn't feel like returning to her Buaji's place. Her Mamaji and his wife used to pamper her and care for her. They also noticed her torn clothes and shoes in which she'd come to visit them. They often asked Dolly if she was alright, and she would not say a word.

Then, consequently, these meetings stopped. For the past 1-2 years, she was denied meeting even her Mamaji. Buaji took away her phone and forbid her to be in touch with any one. She didn't have any contact with anyone for the past two years.

Attempted Suicide
In 2009, sad from constant taunts and verbal abuse, mental torture on a routine basis, Dolly decided to end her life.  Since she had no one to talk to or share her problems with anyone, she saw no other option. She took sleeping pills and was unconscious for two days. Even then, her Buaji or Tauji did not take her to the doctor, perhaps due to the fear of disclosure.

Her situation was getting worse and it was impossible for her to carry on.

Her Journey to Mumbai
In September this year, Dolly left her house and came to her Maasi's place in Mumbai. In that one meeting she had with her Maasi and her daughters couple of years ago, she felt like she could also be happy like the rest of teenage children. She realized that if she stayed with her paternal family or step-mother, she would end her life eventually. She decided she deserved a life full of dignity and self-respect. Having a natural aptitude to sketch and paint, she wants to become a painter or a Chartered Accountant. So she decided that there was a place in the world she could go to, and someone could listen to her plight and support her. She mentioned every bit of her story to her Maasi and her family. They were shocked.

They called her father, and informed him about his daughter's condition. He was more shocked at his daughter's journey rather than the news of her daughter's attempted suicide and pathetic living conditions.

Reality remains that he is too meek to stand up for his daughter's rights. Her step mother is not willing to let her stay with her family, and Dolly fears for her life and her safety in their presence. So she knew she had to decide and take a step. Mumbai was the only answer.

Her Maasi and her family is very understanding and caring. They don't even want any money from her father to raise her, or for her education.They are willing and more than ready to provide for her and care for her, her education, and mostly, her life. Her Maasi is still moved by the death of her younger sister (Dolly's mother) and would not want to lose her daughter. They have allowed Dolly's father to visit her in Mumbai as and when he pleases.

To be on the right side of law, they got Dolly write and sign a Non-Conformation Report (NCR) with the local police (in Thane), who took her statement that she was in Mumbai of her own will and wanted to stay with Maasi's family. The cops supported her, after they heard the entire story.

Women's Rights and Criminal Intimidation
When Dolly arrived at her Maasi's place in Mumbai, the latter called and informed her father. They even asked him to come over and meet her and decide her fate. He visited her after 10 days and went back, only to get his aunt and brother to Mumbai to threaten and intimidate Maasi's family.

It seems they had a connection in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), named Naresh Indora. Mr. Indora called the local police station in Thane and leveraged his professional might, and asked them to systematically harass Maasi's family. The cops now acted out of fear and "orders" from Mr. Naresh Indora. Naresh Indora's mother accompanied the aunt and the brothers as a fake Dadi (paternal grand-mother) and lied to the cops as to how much she missed her grand-daughter and how in such cold weather she had come all the way to Mumbai to save her grand-daughter from the evil clutches of her Maasi.

When contacted by the cops, Maasi's family came to them yet again, and clarified the entire matter. After questioning Dolly, they understood the matter and asserted the girl's freedom to stay where she pleased. Hearing this, CBI Officer Naresh Indora's mother threatened - in front of the Mumbai cops - that she would get Maasi's daughters kidnapped and raped, overnight.

Two days ago, they grilled this 18 year old girl to death, taking her statements - yet again. The cops say they are acting "under pressure" from CBI Officer Naresh Indora.

The young girl will appear for her Board exams in Feb-March 2013 and this is the ordeal that she is made to face.

I googled Women's Cell help unit in Thane, Mumbai just to extend support to this kid, and to my surprise there are none. The contact numbers are not picked up. Websites asking for supporting the girl child and women's rights have 'Donate Now" options on their front page, rather than having a toll-free number or hotline to assist needy or urgent cases. Seems like help is almost impossible to come by for a woman or a kid in distress. I urge the readers to assist Dolly Dabla in her fight against inhumanity, and the legal system being polluted by the likes of CBI officers like Naresh Indora.

Such is the state of women and girl child in India. Simply by wearing jeans and allowed night-shifts in a male dominated industry doesn't make a woman liberated or modern. I think there's more to it. It is not even about women's liberation. It is about humanity and the right to life, right to dignity.

I know this story because I am at the centre of it, but I often wonder how many such stories are there in far-off places like U.P. and Haryana. And if there's some way in which we can reach these exploited women and offer them help - and above all, hope - let's do it..

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Movie Review: Life of Pi

So here's the recipe:

Combine author Yann Martel's simplistic yet though provoking tone, laced with well timed humour;

Ang Lee's ('Brokeback Mountain'; 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon') gift to tell the absurd in the most exquisite way;

Rhythm and Hues studio's ('X-Men: First Class')gift of presenting the marvel in the marvellous;

Claduio Miranda's skill of the camera, identifying the points that make all the difference to story-telling

And the Tiger.... the tiger, with all his glory, and ferocity, regality...

... and you'll get a wonderful cinematic experience.

For those who thought Martel's book by the same name was over-rated, this film might seem the same. But if you paid attention to how the story unfolds, the parallelism between the book and script was beautifully maintained by Ang Lee - unlike Harry Potter movies.

The movie belongs to the book. Ang Lee has just provided an imagination to the book. The best actor in the film is the Tiger, of course; closely followed by Suraj Sharma (some guys have all the luck; getting to shoot with such a magnificent creature [I'm referring to the Tiger, and yeah, Ang Lee, of course])

The film is well balanced on the 3-D front, though personally am not a big fan of the format. After James Cameron came out with Avatar in 3-D, everyone decided the format was a recipe to success regardless of the film content that actually warrants for it or not. This film's content does justice to the format. The cinematography is beautiful, the visual effects studio understood what Lee means when he's the story-teller, letting every frame flow. Some moments are captured really well and that's what a film is remembered for.

The film may remind you of 'The Perfect Storm' when the ocean's bosom rises with a warning, warranting nothing but a spectacle of helplessness. Perhaps Suraj Sharma was briefed that his outing in the ocean must be as sincere and convincing as Tom Hank's performance in 'Cast Away'. He tried. Tabu and Irrfan Khan are okay; but Adil Hussain remains noticeable yet again, after a successful performance in 'English Vinglish'.

It's a great story even for the kids as much as it is for adults. The perennial dilemma about god, and faith, doubt, and the pain of loss as it fully dawns, is something everyone identifies with. But that credit goes to Yann Martel for writing such a book. And to Ang Lee as well, for being so committed to the story.