Thursday, 31 August 2017

Arabian sea to Amternaut




“You come from the Arabian Sea to swim in the Amternaut?”

She’s amused, watching me, as she catches fat tadpoles and small shrimp lurking in the shadowy coves of the clear cold river. I’m transfixed, floating on my back, watching clouds scurrying across the sky, deep shadows and sunlight glinting off giant spider-webs spiraling crazily across thick forest foliage. This is different from the usual floating reveries…a strange change from staring at the sunlight-spangled Arabian sea, gliding on the green waves with a million sea creatures…

Originally, there’d been some obscure plan to travel through the state with a friend, and I’d instead ended up sulky and alone in Shillong. After a day eating jadoh, and walking through the city bazaars, I’d run away, preferring to be in a tiny forest village where no one really goes, to live with a little old lady everyone around Amlarem knows.

With the unerring sagacity that all schoolteachers come with, Lakhmie had realized I wasn’t expecting to be alone, and decided she would accompany me to the forest. While most people came to see the famed living root bridges that the people of her clan originally devised, once she pointed out the steep, slippery trail through the trees, I’d wanted to swim instead.

Later, as we sat on the rocks, eating lunch wrapped in betel nut leaf packaging when she asked me, “You eat tadpole, in your country?” Fearful of being served the fresh ones she’d just caught, I quickly reminded her she’d already cooked jackfruit, like the one my landlady in Goa cooks for Sunday lunch…

She’s fascinated by my rootless existence, as I am with her life steeped in parochial tradition. She is of the War, a sub-clan of the Khasi, confusingly patriarchal, despite their proud matrilineal practices, and I have no village, to claim as ‘mine’. We speak of being single, and the frailty of friendships, and our addiction to tea. We speak of preservation of culture, and she tells me how she’s the only person, possibly, this side of the world, who knows both International script of the War as well as the Indigenous script. I tell her how Goa is struggling with the ridiculously inadequate garbage disposal, and ask about her garbage management. She shrugs sheepishly, and jerks her thumb over her shoulder to indicate that most people throw it, far over, into the forest.

We muse over the ideologies of ‘belonging’, to communities, countries or nation…our worlds could not be more different, dissimilar and surreal to the other, and yet, we are obliged to feel a commonality in our citizenship.

Monday, 12 September 2016

A World built on Good Wishes - Part II



The country is suffering, while the elite are engaged in Facebook wars. Nothing is going to change till each of us makes up his or her mind to fight patriarchy, caste, communalism and injustice. The working class continues to exist on a pittance, and the politicians continue to roll in rivers of money. I was standing near a chai-paratha shop on the streets of Delhi when a luxury sedan pulled up. The obese man behind the wheel rolled his (illegally) tinted glass down, bellowing, ‘abbe oye bhen-chod, paani laa.’ The little chai-shop boy complies, holding out the paani-bottle from a safe distance…I’m assuming that comes with the experience of being cuffed by the customers, and he says, ‘ye lo’ … (please note: no bhaiyaa!) As the man stretches out for the bottle, he shouts,  ‘Izzat se baat kar, chutiya…’ I struggle to keep the disgust from showing on my face as I wonder why anyone should respect this heaving, gasping, sweating blob of flesh with complete disregard for any fellow living being. I wonder what he’s like at home. I wonder how he treats his partner, whether he had any kids. I’m sure he had a home full of servants, and spoke to them just the same. I ignore his drunken bellowing as he threatens someone on the phone, 
Main kaun hoon malum hai? X ka manager hoon main, manager” (X being a nightclub in New Delhi where the pouty types go for their Instagram photos.)

I look away, humming my latest favourite Van Morrison, under my breath, well my Mama told me, there’ll be days like this…” and think of all the love and warmth I’ve received over the last 10 days. I think of my friends, family and strangers who’ve cared for me.

Sunset over the Dalit slum in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu





I often wonder where to start tackling injustice from, and when all this gross discrimination and injustice is going to end. Cynical Cat & I usually agree, there will be no end. Not till humanity is exterminated. We are the cockroaches of this world, scurrying around in dirt and squalor, thriving on the sickness and disease that exists around us. No amount of disease, war or conflict seems to be able to annihilate us or dissuade our perversions. There are, of course, good people out there. But I hate how I stumble across them like they’re some endangered species. The middle class is positively disgusting, with their laughable ambitions for the latest iPhone, and no sense of hygiene, decorum or cleanliness. I travel on the Duronto Express, an expensive, fully air-conditioned train, meant especially for India’s elite. The compartments are stuffy, and smelly, as the humans scream, shout and chomp on their stale, plastic wrapped food. I prefer to sit with the porters, chatting about their lives and villages, coaxing them to get me coffee and let me smoke in shanti. Sitting there, this time, I watched India’s middle class yank the train door open and festoon the countryside with their plastic waste. After watching 5 people do that, I told the sixth, there’s a dustbin ON the train, right UNDER the washbasin! A fat man in branded track pants told me, Dustbin toh ganda hai.” “Haanji, malum hai, haath dho lena.” I suspect he went to the other side of the compartment to continue throwing his trash without my insolent interference. These elite, ‘respectable’ citizens of my proud and excellent country shout at the porters, call them gadhhe, ullu and lots of other stuff that inevitably involves their mothers and sisters. They yell at them for just about anything – passing them in the aisle of the train, not bringing water ‘fast enough’, or not giving cleaner bed-rolls. They yell at the pantry boys because the daal isn’t what they expected. Like these guys get to decide cleanliness or the menu. Ask the fat politicians running Indian Railways to ensure better fucking services. But no, it’s easier to shout at someone you know won’t dare respond. I asked the pantry boys if they ever spit in people’s food. They looked askance, appalled; I definitely would have, if I were one of them! Later that night, one fat Supreme Court advocate told me how ‘these lower caste creatures’ misuse reservation and are born liars. I told him upper caste creatures like him” are responsible for all the ‘bad dua’ (bad vibes) in this world. He refused to talk to me any further. I’m fast beginning to dislike this 'middle-class' - feels like they come readymade with no brains.



I’ve long believed a different world is possible, and it shouldn’t just be limited to the little space bubble we’ve constructed around ourselves. I see people building such connections, making such a world possible. Everywhere I go, for every asshole I meet, there’s one good soul helping someone out. There are free hostels cropping up, and seed centres being built. I usually depend a lot on people’s hospitality during these travels, I pay back in meals, telling them stories and offering them free showers when in Goa, as I move along…If each of us were to establish our good vibes better, further, wherever and whenever possible, if each of us were to take the truth and tell it with love, we might be able to make a world which is a little less judgmental, a little more aware. 

We need to call out Patriarchy, refrain from sexism, and discrimination. We need to SPEAK UPSPEAK OUT, and shout it out LOUD. Each of us needs to step up, to be that rare dying species, good people”, we seldom seem to encounter. 
We need to get out of the safety of our homes, the comfort of our air-conditioned cars and step out and see the world. 
Stop being afraid, of people, of experiences, of hardships, or of dirt and squalor. Take to the road. Take to the trains, the buses, the autos and the streets, and travel. Share your lives and your food with people around you. Smash all the fucking stereotypes sent your way, and take this world by storm.


Travel brings power and love back into your life.
~ Rumi

The gorgeous greens of Goa welcome me home





I know I speak from a space of immense privilege, where I have friends and family and technology ready to access, but I do travel cheap. I travel however possible, and with whomever possible. I use public transport and public toilets. I live with people, in their houses, and sometimes, we've even put a chatai in their office and slept a few hours on the floor. I've gone places on buses, by train, by auto and road, and sometimes, when budgets allow, a flight. These are few & far between. But travel experiences have forced me to expand my consciousness and learn more about different people, different cultures. These experiences have forced me to be humble, polite, respectful and have taught me to trust people, to be good to strangers, to make friends so I always have someone who helps me stay safe. We need to see how people live and what they eat. I’m wondering if fat-pig-in-big-car saw and shared experiences of where the little chai boy came from, and his living conditions, perhaps fat-pig would be a nicer person. One can only hope. 






“…all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration,
…we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively,
…there is no such thing as death,
life is only a dream,
and we are the imagination of ourselves…”
~ Bill Hicks





Random Rants from Travel Trips - Part I


“… cutting up women is a sport older than cricket but just as popular and equally full of 
obscure rituals and intricate rules that everyone seems to know...”


I'm reading Our Lady of Alice Bhatti as I travel trip my way across India, meeting women for our newest campaign - an ambitious one where we're hoping to dismantle patriarchy using videos and discussions. I'm looking for young women, who want to work with us as Correspondents, to document patriarchy preying on them in its own unique style in their areas. As I read about Alice, a fiercely independent former jailbird, from a poor, ‘low-caste’ Christian family in Pakistan, I am disgusted by how similar life for women in India is to the life of Alice.

As I travel from Goa to Kerala, and move to Tamil Nadu, I met Nandhini, from a tiny village just outside Tiruppur town, in Tamil Nadu. She’s just opened a beauty salon, enrolled in English classes and is pretty pissed off with the various ridiculous kinds of caste based discrimination she’s often subjected to. She came to pick me up from Tiruppur railway station on her little pink scooter, and we sat in a café and used broken English and silly sign language to understand one other. She’d learnt photography and had some radical thoughts on the futility of gender discrimination. We giggled our way through this ‘interview’ till Dhurga joined us, confusing us further with her broken Hindi!




With the Mahila Janwadi Samiti, 
Sonipat, Haryana
Dhurga, is from a tiny village on the border of Erode & Tiruppur districts of Tamil Nadu. A recent graduate of Defence Studies, Dhurga’s family profession has traditionally been manual scavenging. An accident left her father bedridden. Her mother, a labourer, was devastated at Dhurga’s decision to pursue a degree, but Dhurga moved to Coimbatore and enrolled in college anyway. Working weekends helped her pay her way through college. She often came home to visit her parents, and volunteered as a community mobilizer and teacher whenever in her village.

There was Survanti, in Sonipat, a migrant Bihari labourer who told us how her father’s travels through the country as a labourer helped him have progressive views on women working out of their homes, out of choice, and had insisted Survanti finish school. Now living in Haryana’s heartland, she uses these progressive ideas to teach both her sons to cook, clean and learn ‘feminine’ roles, while her daughters are encouraged to study, and are allowed as much playtime as the boys. She is pleased; her husband’s support gives her the space to lead a village core group to encourage financial independence and empowerment of women.
There was Meena, in Rohtak, a Dalit girl who’s educated herself. Meena explains to me in a thick Haryanvi accent that patriarchy is why they are 5 sisters, with 2 little brothers. She explains that patriarchy is why her mother earns less money than her father does – for the same work! Her mother of course, also manages their household before & after her work hours, while her father plays cards, and sometimes gets drunk with his friends. Meena is hell-bent on smashing this social norm that tells her that her ‘duties’ in life are limited to being a slave to whichever man currently commands her life. She’s refused to get married just yet, and aspires to help her mom retire, before she ‘settles’ for a man who will ‘permit’ her to live her life with freedom.


******
After hearing all of this, the princess asks, “And what might such a bride do as mistress of this elegant and wonderful House of Toad?”

The toad answers, “Why, you would serve me, of course! You would be at my side whenever I wish! You may also prepare glorious meals for me, attend to my washing and you would be in charge of keeping the castle just so!”

The Princess later enjoyed a lovely meal of sautéed frog’s legs and a glass of fine wine, having murmured in the Toad's ear, “I don’t fucking think so!”

~ from The Nephilim Rising Facebook post
******

Whenever I meet these women, we always talk of ‘freedom’, inevitably. Such a touchy term it is. Most people are curious, whether I’m married, and why not. I tell them of the inability to comprehend the idea of sharing my life and dreams with a person who would expect me to be nothing more than their slave. Not all men are like that, they say. I agree, slightly skeptical. I also ask them why they never ask men if they’re married. My male colleagues are rarely questioned about their marital status... We discuss how our society brings up children in gender-specified and well-compartmentalized roles. We talk of how ‘mard ko dard nahin hota hai’, and laugh about how the good men are always taken. I wonder aloud if there are instances of same-sex relations in their villages, and some of the women giggle, others blush, and someone lightly slaps my hand as she says, 'let’s talk about something else now…'



We go on to argue about who are the biggest perpetrators of Patriarchy. Sunita, an educated, ‘liberated’ young woman with a college education,is married to an army-officer. Armed with a degree and nationalistic fervor, Sunita tells us that women are the ONLY reason why patriarchy continues to perpetuate, and goes on to describe how over-population of the minority communities is the reason why our country is in such a mess. As she speaks, I’m desperately looking for the correct Hindi words to respond in the ‘right’ way, but before my mind can come up with a response, the other women laugh her into silence. These Haryanvi women, compelled to live in ghoonghat and rarely allowed to step out of their homes, have possibly put their lives at risk to be here. And they’re not willing to accept more patriarchal shit dished out for free. They describe to Sunita with gentle disdain, that she’s just another unfortunate victim of Patriarchy. Men are not taught to cook or clean, or maintain homes. They’re taught that their sole purpose in life is to father children, get good jobs, have a house, a car, provide for their children… they’re brought up with parochial, patriarchal terms and conditions, ‘humare ghar ke auratein bahaar kam nahin karte hai, kya zaroorat hai, itne saare mard hai, paise kamane ke liye…’ (women of our house do not leave the house to earn, what is the need? There are enough men here…). That society compels men & women alike to fit into certain social roles and norms, and that this, in it’s entirety, is patriarchy. They go beyond my limited understanding of gender in a Haryanvi village, and tell Sunita that her pride in her husband’s gun-toting ways is Patriarchy. An older woman takes Sunita aside to further explain to her how peace is the only answer, and war is a weapon created by corporates and politicians. The rest of us continue to talk about the limits and conditions with which we understand “work”. I am amazed at the depth and understanding these women of the ‘dehat’ have about life beyond their village. They tell me some of them have learnt to read from their children, and regularly read aloud for others from the limited newspapers that reach their village. I am convinced they are far more empowered than the pouty, hair-straightened specimens which Instagram their way through life in the cities.
railway attendants
I befriended, Chennai
to Hyderabad


We talk about how ‘work’ is usually understood within the narrowed realms of glass-encased offices, 9-5 jobs as someone’s stooge or a corporation’s slave. Washing, cleaning, cooking, feeding and managing household expenses, rearing children, massaging in-laws, and submitting to their husbands’ sexual advances are not yet considered ‘work’. Failure to submit to these terms & conditions mean that women are beaten, burnt, raped and tortured, tonsured and hunted as witches, and harassed, touched without consent, jeered, stared at, stoned and slaughtered with absolute impunity. As these women’s collectives share stories, my mind is left reeling with the cruelty and injustice meted out to women. The stories get progressively more depraved. There was a time when none would complain when a woman had been raped. The dishonor was too much to deal with. However, as courage seeps through the masses, people are no longer content to ‘simply’ rape, but they feel compelled to torture, disfigure, slash and burn women, to hide evidence, disfigure beyond recognition, terrify and threaten survivors. The trans-community don’t have it any better, as we have only just begun to react to violence against women, we haven’t yet made it to acknowledging and shouting vociferously for the rights of transpeople.

A lot of people usually ask me what it is like for a woman to travel alone. I tell them I make friends with people, that strangers help me. I make friends with coach attendants, and ask them about their lives. They show me photos of their grandkids, and feel sad they’ve missed most of the milestones in their lives. One showed me a photo of his granddaughter’s first tooth. The Chaiwallah at Chennai helped me find a “non-cheater autowallah”. Former colleagues, interns and relatives host me as I crisscross across the country. A generally small build and malnourished look compels people to feed me. Friends and their associates take me on city tours, done via bumpy scooter rides and rickety buses. People are always fascinated with the backpack & boots. I tell them the boots aren’t to be badass – they’re only for the horrific public toilets. They want to know about my parents, what made them ‘allow’ me to lead my life as I wished? I show them photos, and they think my parents ‘look’ liberated. Maybe it’s Mom’s short hair. Or the fact that Papa has his arm around her, not clutching, not grabbing, but loosely holding her closer to him. They find it funny that my clothes are covered in dog fur, and that I say I don’t live alone, I have several dogs, chickens and even a piggy. They guffaw when I describe Piggy’s teeny meeny feet and his plugpoint nose … Many people have told me as I leave, I’m wonderfully weird, 'Aap kitna ajeeb ho, aapko milke bahut achha laga’..

One Haryanvi woman wistfully tells me she wishes she could bring up her daughters like I was...

I tell her, "Anything is possible..."

We both know I’m lying.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Freedom & a Flower: Part I

 ‘One must have freedom, sunshine and a little flower.’
~ Hans Christian Anderson

CyberDragon’s Psychedelic Trips are perfect for staring at chickens in the sunshine. I'm ensconced in a wholly different world as I sit in the balcony, watching Flirty-Chicken mince around, fluffing her tail, while the two roosters flap and squawk, ripping each other to bloodied ribbons. I occasionally run through the yard, reluctantly flapping my arms, calling up childhood phrases (‘fighter-cocks’) to break up the fight. Pichkoo watches from under my chair, covered in her resident cloud of mosquitoes hovering around her little nose. (Pichkoo is very generous, she always shares her various bugs with me, often leaving a fat tick at my doorstep.) She’s watching the fight, hawk-eyed, hoping one rooster will flop over and die, oblivious to Dove-White-Chicken greedily golumphing at her pet mosquitoes. [1] Usually friendly, Fatootie-Chicken is grumpily glaring at the commotion around. Her ferocious pecking is enough to keep the warring fools away, far from her food.

We are what we see before us. We forget other sentient beings in our wired, weary daily lives. Stop Instagram-ing for an instant, please, and spend time soaking in the sunshine. Sit still, and breathe slow. Stare into the skies beyond. See the birds circling the clouds. Floppy-eared bunnies and horse-dragon clouds floof through the bright blue skies above. Purple feathery flowers peek through the touch-me-nots. Once you’ve watched a sapling struggle through the soil, would you be willing to destroy swathes of ancient forest to fuel your already avaricious coal empire?

I often wonder what it would be like if I could survive on fruit and plants from my backyard, and sit and stare at the chickens all day long. What if I didn’t feel compelled to engage with, attempt to empower and amplify voices of the marginalized, impoverished, malnourished, brutalized, discriminated against, criminalized millions? What if there was no need to write impassioned reams of information on communities across the country? What if there weren’t any enslaved, tortured, crushed by administration’s inability to deal with neglect, greed and corruption?

“The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children”

We played a game last night, my friend & I. We tried to think of a place where there isn’t some shit going down. Iceland & Denmark rate ‘at peace’ in terms of armed conflict – civilian or international. No one is inclined to data crunch daily violence, so technically, there is no human habitation per se, where there is peace. Maybe Christania. Mostly.

There’s far too many ego-bloated ‘humans’ pomp-arsing their way through life (think Arnab Goswami). Fools who’ve failed to realize that we’re all just made of Star Stuff and Space Brains. A punter. Or a politician. Maybe a banker or a billionaire. A certain cop somewhere, and a minion or two there. Same story everywhere. Slaves who believe our destinies are to ‘conquer’ by plotting wars and mangling minds. The rest are either mesmerized by TV or desperately dying for telling the truth.
  
“… we could be silent forever
…And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.”
–Emmanuel Ortiz













[1] I wonder if it’s a trap. That one day, Pichkoo will finally snap up Dove-White and run away, like she does with all the plastic water bowls I put out for her. Neighbours and friends keep ‘returning’ bowls they find anywhere between my house & her usual humans’villa.