I always feel t…

I always feel this pressure of being a strong and independent icon of womanhood, and without making it look like my whole life is revolving around some guy. But loving someone, and being loved means so much to me. We always make fun of it and stuff. But isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?

~ Julie Delphy in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset: Two Screenplays by Richard Linklater 

…And the story of my life. sigh.

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Boys II Men: Dissecting masculinites in South Asia

(Let’s Talk Men is a project started by Aakar, a media house in Delhi started by filmmaker Rahul Roy. The thrust of this project is to investigate masculinities as a part of the emerging gender discourse in south Asia, as in the rest of the world. In this second edition, held in Delhi last week, four films helped a small but deeply engaged audience make better sense of the over-arching term — Patriarchy. This can also be read here.)

In an unequal world, ‘boys will be boys’ is an oft-repeated phrase that encompasses a wide range of social behaviour – from a general sense of XY entitlement to an assumption that men are ‘like that only’, pre-ordained from birth to be violent, dominant or generally the powerful sex. Yet, there is now greater interest in attempting to understand what goes into making men, rather than simply studying how this has affected other genders. The NGO Aakar’s project, Let’s Talk Men, is an effort in this direction – with four films shot and executed in four separate South Asian contexts, the initiative aims to reveal various situations that men find themselves in and are moulded by. Last week, the second edition of Let’s Talk Men was held with films from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India. Supported by Partners for Prevention, a UN agency, the first edition happened in 1998. “When we started, masculinities were just beginning to be discussed from within the feminist movement and academic circles. It was a fairly new concept then, but the second edition is timely as it has gained from all that has happened in the past 15 years. It also tries to open windows on how men can reflect on their separate situations and see themselves differently,” said Rahul Roy, director of Aakar.

His film Till We Meet Again touches base with the four protagonists from Jahangirpuri, Delhi, of his 1999 film, When Four Friends Meet. The men, whose earlier preoccupations dealt with girlfriends and finding employment, are now married with children. They attempt to negotiate the everyday with their families and friends, and are, in a sense, appropriated by this city that they earlier looked upon critically. Kesang Tseten’s documentary Men At Work, on the other hand, looks at four different kinds of work spaces. Here, a Nepali domestic worker, a mechanic, young boys studying for priesthood, and Gurkhas vying to be part of the British regiment, find themselves being regimented into becoming men. Prasanna Vithanage’s feature With You, Without You positions itself at the heart of the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict, tracing an army officer’s tryst with love and reality. Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi’s feature Zinda Bhaag puts the spotlight on the lives of three boys from Pakistan for whom emigration (by hook or by crook) is the only answer to, and escape from the pressures of society and family.

The films emphasise that people are a product of their circumstances. In Zinda Bhaag, for instance, Khaldi is a taxi-driver bent on migrating to the UK because he needs money to support his mother and his sister’s wedding. He tries through the formal route and is rejected, is fleeced by an agency, and finally resorts to gambling for a fake passport and visa. In Tseten’s documentary, an aspiring soldier says that the British Gurkha regiment is all he ever dreamed of joining because he saw his grandfather holding a gun and he wanted to do the same, because it was a matter of great pride in his family. In Roy’s documentary too, we see the four men torn between the idealism of youth and their often unbearable realities, bringing out aspects of violence that are very disturbing to watch.

A still from Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi’s Zinda Bhaag

“If men today centrally feature in processes of violence or discrimination, they cannot be ignored. Through this project, we’ve attempted to challenge certain ways in which masculinity is being interpreted and defined in the development sector,” says Roy, pointing to the desire for a much more nuanced investigation into the subject. And he feels this has already begun, thanks to the December 2012 protests. “It was an emotive, cathartic moment that triggered a lot of writing by men about the experience of being a man. There is a lot of social questioning – the implications of which are difficult to discern at the moment, but perhaps more platforms for men to articulate how they have received these events might be helpful,” he observes.

Turn Turn Turn…Turn to Her

Of all the newness that daily living brings, today’s was an unexpected high. For the first time in 10 years, of which at least 5 i have spent travelling in DTC buses, i encountered a female bus conductor today. It was fate, i am sure of it…leaving home just the crucial two minutes late, getting onto a bus that broke down half a km later, then getting onto another, but jostled into a corner by Mama Sumo Hustler who took the seat i spotted first…and then, in that terribly filmy, slow-motion moment, when i turn my head, hair flying away from face to reveal super surprised eyes like those of a deer alerted, to hear the woman’s voice yell, albeit musically…”ARRE…ticket le loooo“…!

I approached her for my ticket. Saw the seat next to her was vacant, so asked her if i could sit there. To which she first said no, with an apologetic smile, so i didn’t push it. Then 5 minutes later she relents and lets me have the seat. Through the next 45 minutes i watch her go about her business as countless grizzly old men have gone in the very throne now accorded to her. Her maths sharp, her jaw set, her eyes alert, her tone gruff…She had me at ‘Ye lo’. 😛

Also for the next 45 minutes, i sat next to her, bursting with pride, as if it were my personal accomplishment, this miracle of a gender bender. And apparently, i was not alone in my surprise – the poor thing, who i am quite sure is younger than I am, was and is probably continually subject to stares, searching, puzzled, amused, lecherous stares but she just smiled at the nicer ones and avoided eye contact with the more dangerous ones. For some reason, i found my well of courage this time and stared down a couple of young upstarts (which is easy for this seat, like the ‘throne’, is elevated ). Every now and then, she’d look at me and smile, with rupee notes slipping out from one hand to the other, doing her mental calculations. A multi-tasker, i say! Next time, i promised myself, i shall speak to her, tell this story her way.

Of course, this overflow of joy in the name of feminism seems psychotic, but for now, hurrah for a new world!