Origami

On my body, you will find

The lines you’re looking for. These creases

are just old enough – for the lines

To not become borders. impenetrable.

Impregnable. Trace your fingers across

My solar plexus, and you will

Find

 

[Pigeons soar alongside, I see them

Racing to stay in my line of vision

As we hurtle on, epiphanies within

Sight. They throw themselves

At me only to hit duplicitous glass. Now,

The light turns liquid and flows down

The cracks they leave behind.]

 

                                       The light

Of a million galaxies trickling down.

If you listen closely, there’s bird song

Too. You will bend me, and I will

Comply. Rehearsed; this routine isn’t

A lie. But it isn’t the truth either.

 

There are only questions in these folds.

 

These folds that are grey with age.

 

This is an age unwilling to bend.

But around the bend, lies the answer.  

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Living Room Conversations in 2013

“It’s pretty clear now that Modi will be our next Prime Minister.”

*grudging nods*

“But you have to see, no, how these Congress people have sold off our country. The BJP, whatever else it may be, at least has sound minority upliftment policies.”

*grunts of derision* “And what might these be?”

“They don’t believe in any of this wishy-washy business of reservations. You know, reservations and quotas and all these fillips have actually harmed the minorities. They’ve become comfortable with the way things are. Expect the government to hand everything to them on a silver platter.”

“Okay, let me stop you right there. Reservation as a policy may have gone wrong in our country, that’s another discussion. But if the BJP is against it, it’s not because they genuinely care about the Muslims or other minorities, but because they want votes. Hindu votes. Lots of them.”

“No no, that is rubbish. The party may have started out with the Hindutva peg, but look at how they’ve changed. Look at what Modi has done in Gujarat, he has transformed it. What development!”

“There are actually reports saying other-….”

“Have you been to Ahmedabad recently? Looks like Europe only. Beautiful. The roads, the cleanliness! And I hear they have great infrastructure too.”

“But that’s only in areas that are non-Muslim. There are reports that say Muslim areas have been ghettoised. That there were boycotts and Muslims were discriminated against for the longest time. For all you know, this is still true. The man is just cashing in on the UPA’s weak moment.”

“And he might as well. Such brilliant governance. He will turn the country around.”

“But there is still a large number of people, at least I know several people, who are dead against him coming to power. He and the party he hails from are divisive forces. If we think six degrees of separation…”

“But why? Till when are you lot going to harp on 2002? Godhra wasn’t the only such incident that happened in the country. The Congress also allowed all those Sikhs to be killed in 1984 when Indira Gandhi died.”

“But look at the scale of violence! Two wrongs never make a right. No one’s saying that 1984 was acceptable. But neither can 2002 be, right?”

“They started it. They started it by setting fire to that coach full of men, old and young, women, children. All those poor souls did was go to Ayodhya…”

“So then it was a retaliation to the Babri Masjid episode…”

“In which no people died. All they did was demolish that mosque!”

“But why? Why do that? Why did it matter so much? Doesn’t that just show you what they’ve thought and wanted to do with the minorities all along?”

“No! There was a temple earlier. It belonged to us, that land! Those bloody Mughals came and plundered through everything. During Ram’s time, there was a temple there…”

“What?! How can you possibly know what was there in the time of a mythological character? This is such ridiculous conjecture!”

“But they did have it coming. And how can you take their side? They don’t even let their women study, or breathe in peace. They’re such a patriarchal lot, and so extreme! They don’t really want to live here also. But India’s government made it so convenient for them. Being secular means they get the best of both worlds. They’re far away from the troubles of Pakistan and here they can be as ‘Muslim’ as they want to be.”

“But…? What best of both worlds? They make up the larger part of our poor classes.”

“And whose fault is that? Because of these reservations, they don’t have the incentive to work hard and move ahead in life. Their basic survival needs are met by the government. And you don’t know, but they also get a lot of opportunities. So many seats in the UPSC and in public sector companies and schools and colleges lie waiting for them to come and simply take. And they wouldn’t even have done anything to deserve it.”

“But even if what you’re saying happens, these ‘benefits’ can only be reaching a small percentage of people. I’m sure a lot are still not even aware of what all they have a right to.”

“No, all that’s rubbish. They all know. They’re very cunning. They send their kids to these madrasas, where they learn the same codes of conduct that existed 100 years ago. Empty minds are the devil’s paradise.”

“BUT WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? THIS IS A COMMUNITY LIKE ANY OTHER MINORITY THAT IS MINORITISED! THROUGH STATE ACTION, THROUGH STATE TERRORISM, BY THESE SANGH PARIVAR TYPE PEOPLE WHO HAVE SUCCESSFULLY BRAINWASHED MIDDLE CLASS EDUCATED PEOPLE LIKE YOU…LOOK AT ALL THE INCIDENTS OF VIOLENCE THAT HAPPEN IN THIS COUNTRY, THE MINORITIES SUFFER MORE EVERY TIME. THIS IS A DANGEROUS TREND….”

“Listen, calm down. We don’t know who’ll be PM yet. But it’s quite certain that Modi will be our leader. We need a man like him to come to power. He will save the economy, and put up a brave face in front of China. He is what this country needs.”

*Resigned to our fate, we reconsider our options. Much to our horror, we realise, there are none.*

There is no point of history. History is the past becoming the future becoming the present all over again, all the time.

You [already] Stink and Burn

Perhaps it should have been heartening to see so many people finally coming out on the streets, crying for ‘justice’, whatever it is that they mean by the word; demanding that our roads be made safer, that rape cannot be tolerated.

Perhaps it is the ever-growing cynic in me who just cannot find a hint of satisfaction or relief in the drama that is unfolding every moment in pristine Lutyen’s Delhi, in these beautiful winter days.

Perhaps they will pass a new law, there will be a new CM, there will be more police on the roads, the papers and TV channels will follow rape cases more doggedly.

BUT!

This is not the first time a woman has been raped to the brink of her death. This is not the first time the CM has shrugged off responsibility. This is not the first time the common man and his kin have come out in the streets. This is not the first time they’ve increased security. This is not the first time there’s so much excitement. This is not the first time – and it won’t be the last. Not the way we seem to be going about it!

Because rape isn’t an under-the-table act, where both parties can leave with some sense of satisfaction, gratification. It isn’t an assembly line product that has come to dominate psyches, turned into a status symbol, something that one MUST have, a sign of one’s affluence at the cost of another’s impoverishment. It isn’t a man, a regime that has his/its own way all the time. It isn’t an ideology, a religion, a policy, a piece of property. STOP calling your picnic a fucking REVOLUTION, for heaven’s sake!

Because if you think what you’re doing out on the roads – shouting slogans, burning effigies, calling authorities names, getting a shower-down by policemen, demanding death by hanging and/or castration – is a revolution, you don’t know shit about what it is like walking on the road, alone, everyday, with a mix of fear and stubbornness swirling inside you, making you nauseous and pumping adrenaline into your bloodstream all at the same time. Knowing that any moment now, you will face an ugliness that you never dreamed possible, even in your worst nightmares.

You don’t know shit about how everyday, you see it in their eyes, everywhere. That you’re being undressed slowly or hastily, depending on just how his highness likes it, your breasts are being weighed, your buttocks are getting spanked, and this may not just be foreplay. You know it because you can see the bulge in their pants that they will continue to thrust into your behind, your shoulder and everywhere else as you jostle for even the littlest space to stand in an overcrowded bus.

You don’t know shit about that lecherous uncle / cousin / male relative (even fathers!) who will leave no stone unturned to be with you in a closed, isolated space, touch you whenever possible, wherever possible, however possible. And just how the sight or sound of them fills you with an inexplicable dread, a sense of terror that can paralyse you down to your very puny soul.

You don’t know shit about how your dreams, your identity, your entire being is subservient to your safety, which is just politespeak for your family’s honour, that nondescript sense of selfhood that rests almost completely on the girl’s sorry shoulders. You have a job that keeps you out late? Imagine the possibilities! How can you not be panicking yet? After all, worrying is our prerogative, beta.

(By the way, if you do know all this and are still screaming your head off in the streets, for your and fellow sufferers’ rights, then aww, you poor little naive thing. Even my rant here on this webspace that nobody reads isn’t half as bad as yours.)

Why do you talk about it, and those who do the deed, as if it were exclusive to you and your environment? Rape isn’t an isolated act, much as it may require isolation as a condition to facilitate its happening.

Rape doesn’t happen because the girl (or boy) was looking soo unbearably sexy that no power in that dot on the time-space axis could’ve stopped her (his) molestation.

Rape doesn’t happen because the rapist harbours exceptional degrees of lustiness. Nor does it happen because the night brings out their romantic side.

Rape happens because society, and you, let it happen. Because you don’t stand up against offences of any nature in public places such as, say, the Metro. Heck, you don’t even get up to give your seat to the old/ pregnant lady standing in front of you, that’s how blind you are! Rape happens because we live in a repressed society where girls and boys are segregated, having boyfriends is seen as criminal, sitting and talking with a boy in a public place warrants a lock-up, being beaten-up, where prostitution remains illegal and sex is seen as a depraved, corrupt activity. Rape also happens because Hindi cinema glorifies masculinity, which in turn has its source in violence and sex. Rape happens because power equations across class, caste, gender lines are changing – lines that were drawn by the very people who are climbing lampposts and posing for pictures at India Gate today, not-waiting to put them up on FB to show they’re so with it. Rape is not one man’s crime, it is even yours when you tell your daughter/sister/mother to stay indoors at night, even though all you want to do is protect them.

At this rate, rape will continue to happen. Even as you lot are ‘protesting’ – which, come on face it, is just asking for revenge – there were at least three more cases reported in today’s newspapers. Do you think your shouting is loud enough to drown out their urges inside their heads? Doesn’t look like it.

Rape will also keep happening as long as you think that women need to be protected. The presumption here is the male is and always will be an animal, naturally. That’s like, WTF? And all you women, you buy into this crap because it makes you feel better in your cramped existence too.

Rape happens because in the friction caused by shifting plates in the continent of patriarchy, there’s a little squeak that the woman manages to edge in sideways now. Because when boys with bloated heads from small towns arrive in the National Chutiyaap Region, otherwise known as the land of promise, they see all these…the girls!…calling the shots! How could this be? Meri ma toh mere baap ki jooti ki dhool chaat-ti hai, ye kya anarth ho raha hai yahan?!

Rape will keep happening because you mothers don’t slap your sons enough and continue to let them turn into such egoistic, horny bastards.

Rape will keep happening as long as educationists and the moral police (who should be sent back to the 17th century) believe there’s much glory in segregation and separation, not realising that in the process, they turn this ‘other’ into this fantastic, exotic creature that must be had at all costs.

There are other reasons for rape to happen too, but the overarching reason it actually goes DOWN (ALL puns intended) is because the girl’s body is thought of as a site of control. Even as you yell from the ramparts of the Parliament for equality, what you should be fighting for is to gain control of your body. Free it from this omnipresent gaze, free yourself from being conscious of this gaze.

The only way you can really stand up for the poor girl struggling to get off ventilators now is by swearing to change how you think and how you let others around you think.

By some twist of fate, she’s a hero today instead of being a victim for life or even dead, and that is the only good thing to come out of this charade. She will live respectably where countless others have perished.

But her life will be in vain if you don’t realise that this is not one incident, this is not the 9/11 of India, but something that, sadly, happens everyday, several times a day.

The answer, my friend, doesn’t lie in retribution, in castration, in revenge, because that is only enabling a vicious cycle. It lies in education. Unless we learn lessons from history, as modern as last year’s fascinating summer, things will never change.

That is, of course, unless all you’re looking for is cheap thrills over the weekend, in which case, ignore all that you’ve read so far. Obviously, you are the MAN of the moment.

Last Call: What the FUCK do you mean by a rape CULTURE?! Can you please think before you let these words come out of your mouth?!

Narrow Escape

That morning, I woke up wanting
only a vision to calm the restive animal
hammering to get out of  my rib cage.

That morning, my breakfast
was a few dry crumbs dissolved in tea gone 
cold. I wasn’t paying attention. 

That morning, all those years of lies
And deceit were unwanted company 
On the balcony, twirling in tune with the smoke.

That morning, the valley yonder
was a vast, relentless admonishment —
“Who do you think you’re running away from?”

That morning, I thought I’d escaped
on a blue bus, out of the city, out of the civil,
out of me. And there I was, face to face.

That morning, the wilderness was inside
me like never before, confusion reigning,
anger thrashing, the madness hunting.

That morning was just the night in camouflage,
only just beginning to descend. With fingers
clammy, it would’ve squeezed me bloodless.

But that morning turned into noon, into 
evening and into twilight, and i walked
from sunset to sunset and rainbow to rainbow
and felt the monster disengage, dissipate,
apparate as the sweat on my forehead
arrived to witness………………………………..

…………………………………….THIS.

Reckoning

2012. Distances grow. Without meaning to. From innocence, from love, from sharing, from family. From concern, from grappling, from reality. From truth. From coherence. From understanding. Growing up is happening too fast. Suddenly, there is no time. I’ve lost myself in a tumult of the outside, forgetting myself in the hurricane. Gladly so. Suddenly, it is easy to ignore the mundane, be engrossed in the trivial. It is easy to feel like I’m doing something of credibility, of worth, something that will have an impact. Much harder to realise, in moments of self-truth, that this may not really be so. At the end of the day, my eyes hurt behind lids that are coloured grey and red every time I close them. Loud guffaws of the day echo in some cob-webby attic of the mind. There’s distance in perceiving time too. Days have begun to feel like an age. Exhaustion consumes me, I don’t have the energy to think things through. And yet, this is ordinariness. Others have lives twisting into hyperbole every second. And I run away from them, from myself because I have no solace to offer. Every morning, I wake up unwillingly, and the first thought that floats into mind is a tiny prayer for a sense of humour to a God I don’t particularly believe in. And he/she grants it to me. And I live on…

The illogic of small big-big things.

Beware of the night, they whisper.

In the black, there are always, and only, shades of grey.

A vortex, it will slurp up the white, like a Hoover,
Burp and beam, from Jaapan to Jalandhar.

Replete with satisfaction, it will leave red.
In your face, on the road, on your sheets.

And then Society will come a-knocking.
And all they’ll be able to see anymore is the mud.
Horrors. No blairwitch, this. “She wouldn’t listen”
Is all they’ll have to say, passing it on.

*Facepalm*. Life’s sucha bitch.

Quarters

In the O of the Whole
And the | of the half
Lies a quarter of a soul
Waiting for its last laugh.

Quartered lemons
With half a glass of woe
For one momentous whole day
And some candles to blow.

Four quarters or two halves
To make a perfect O.
Within the black hole of existence,
Is it possible to glow?

Wanting to be, to grow,
To live, to lose, to flow,
Is three parts desire
And one part, to know.

This story is not about undermining a woman’s choice to wear or be what she wants.

…It is about perceptions and generation gaps.

So, a couple of evenings ago, ma and i were gluttonously popping pani pooris at that famous stall in GK1’s M-Block market. We were also silently indulging in our second favourite pastime in markets (no prizes for guessing what is at number 1) : Voyeurism of the Venus-ites. It is by now common knowledge that while men check out women everywhere, women, too, check out other women more often than they size-up the mans on the prowl. And what is it that we’re checking for? A quick 5-second once-over can take in clothes, make up, hair, shoes, accessories, nail color, waistline, other lines and sizes and come to conclusions as to the nature and character of the studied specimen (speciman? speciwoman?). If you add another 2 seconds, judgements can be doled out if you have the ‘right’ company: all you need to do is raise eyebrows and make eye contact at the right moment. The smile is passed, the shoulders are shrugged in a it-takes-all-kinds-to-make-a-world way, and some bitchy part of the soul is satisfied at the one-uppance. There is nothing monumental about this process – it happens everywhere, all the time. But, I theorise, and thereby digress from my story.

So, ma n i have moved on to aloo chaat and somehow look up from the plate to take in this sight: three young women whose figures suggest they practice anorexia regularly, doddering up the street in painful high heels. The shortest of them wearing what seemed to be only a corset ( of the undergarment-of-yore variety, and therefore decidedly not classy ) and tight, terribly low-slung jeans, poker straight hair, heavy eyeliner, thick mascara, a peachy pout. Extremely conscious of herself, she has the air of one whose feet are barely making contact with the ground, she’s so high on how good she thinks she’s looking. Frantically gazes down at herself to check that just the right amount of skin is visible. Comes off looking like a brainless tart.

The mother and i quickly look at each other, smile. Grimace is more the word actually. We’re both tch-tching in our heads till the tittering trio are out of earshot.

And then, ma says, she’s clearly a small-town girl grown too big for her boots. Iske toh par nikal rahe hain, aur dekho kaise!

I say, yeah, well, what can one do? more tch-tching happens.

And then it occurs to me, hah! look at us, how arrogantly we talk, like we were born into the big-moneyed, big-city ranks. 11 years here and just look at us!

We laugh at ourselves. But then comes the punchline from the learned one: True, we’re middle class people, belonging to small towns. We’re bourgeois to the best of our abilities, but we never EVER behave like that. Never have, never will.

Point noted, O mother. There’s a lesson in decency to be had somewhere in there.

On a related note, I urge you to walk the talk, get down and dirty at Slutwalk Delhi on June 25. Talk about inverting roles, taking to the streets and taking back the power!

Tenses

Two years. Two massive years that have just buzzed by in a flurry of fun and fretting, eating, playing, dancing, drinking, poking, jumping, posing, laughing, breaking, singing, screaming, running, copying, studying, dozing, listening, shopping, holding, hugging, crying, kissing, supporting, talking, BCing, reading, writing, fighting, clicking, dragging, begging, teasing, falling, scraping, cutting, flying, burning, freezing, baking, partying, daring, confessing, climbing, snatching, tracking, gossiping, arguing, walking, sitting, following, caring, sighing, wishing, dreaming…coming closer, loving, hating, but always being…together.

In the name of peace, may this present continuous never end.

Mise-en-scene

Location: The isolated room to the left of the main entrance at 802 Kailash, Kaushambi

Circa 2000: The barest of spaces. Walls: newly whitewashed. Floor: the dirty brown tiles, unkempt and untidy, as one is used to in public sector company flats. A small, very bare, pigeon-infested balcony. One diwan (to function as the bed) horizontally pushed up against the wall opposite to the entrance. One pista green study table in the opposite corner, next to the cupboards. A dressing table and mirror next to it. One steel almirah, holder of all off-seasonal clothes and my deepest darkest secrets, next to the bed. One broken bulb lamp. One tubelight. An old aluminium box has my pricest teddies displayed on it. Six months later, there’s an old BPL TV in their place and they find pride of place on the bed. The ceiling is a replica of the sky, only with green glow-in-the-dark stars and moons and planets instead of the real ones.

2002: The dressing table and mirror have been shifted to the fraction of a wall between the balcony door and the bathroom door. Next to the study table has appeared an old Akai TV set, replacing the BPL, now having been demoted from the parents’. The wall i face while studying now has a few posters, mostly of Tom Cruise and the Backstreet Boys.

2004: More posters. More of Tom. New study table. Imported from Papa’s office, it’s a big grey, blue and brown thing, very official, making me feel very important. And it is now where the bed used to be. The bed is on the wall perpendicular. There’s a two-level book shelf nailed right above the table with the top one reserved for the special books, the ones i like to read, and the lower one full of commerce crap. A carpet now hides the icky tiles partially. My first bean bag, which looks a little like a chess board, arrives.

2006: A big collage of photographs, cards and such up on the study wall. notes, time-table, quotes, poetry, butterflies, colors, people…all part of the wall. Tom Cruise and the Backstreet Boys now reside all rolled up in a corner of the cupboard now, gathering dust. The books change from Accountancy and Business Studies and Maths (brrr!) to Milton, Foucault, Shakespeare, Ghosh…over three years of literature compilation. The aluminium box is replaced by a proper TV stand and now boasts of a fancy new Sony music system as well. The study table also has some of my teddies, a few photo frames. One of the old masterbed’s side table is now the reservoir of my music collection, tapes and discs. They all soon become redundant with the arrival of a shiny new iPod Nano. As does the Akai, which is sold off and replaced with the Sony flat-screen as the parents upgrade to an LCD. And then arrives the treadmill.

2009: Two years away, and the room’s now a bigger storage den than the rightfully assigned one in the main balcony. All sorts of debris piled onto the study table, into the shelves, the cupboards. It wears the look of one ignored, abused and exploited. So we begin from scratch: take down the cobwebs, dust everything up, throw a gazillion things out, find other things that seem to have been misled into the space of Losing-It. The room is now purple. The curtains are purple. There’s a new chocolate brown bean bag, a Daughter’s Day gift. The new bedsheets i buy are purple and blue with many many elephants and flowers on them. A carefully crafted rosewood book case, a much craven thing, now towers over the TV. A new study lamp on the old table, paper flowers, paper lamps, knick knacks accumulated as gifts all find place on the corner stand, on stools, on the study table…on any flat surface.

2011: The music set, the treadmill, the TV are all out of working order, but they’re still here, too hard to let go off. Or maybe the hope is we can get them fixed and they’ll be running again. A split A/C to make the heat more bearable arrived the previous year. A pin-up board has posters from the Jaipur Lit Fest, postcards from McLeodganj, some of the oldest, nicest photographs, a redundant time-table and a ‘To Do-Doing-Done’ routine with no post-its under it. Two framed paintings of a sole woman, one communing with nature and the other playing the Sitar, decorate the wall opposite the main door. The balcony is now pigeon-free and is now the most functional space of the room with a washing machine installed in it. The most important thing on the study table is now a laptop – the window to the world.

This is the space i’ve called my room for the past decade. It has been the only constant thing through my teenage, supplying all that is deemed most essential by an adolescent, coming-to-grips-with-adulthood-and-the-big-city girl. In film theory, the representation of space in a scene affects the reading of depth. Perhaps, what populates this space i so proudly call mine is a portrait of me on different dots across the time-space axis.

Virginia Woolf felt that ‘A Room of One’s Own’ was the first and foremost requirement of a woman looking to become free. Mine sure gave me wings (thank you Ma and Papa), and yet, this is where i choose to come back to. I get what those breeding pigeons loved about my room. It is the same even when it changes. Warm, cosy, open. Home.