Of Cabbages and Kings

August 30, 2008

Killer Reiser confesses

Filed under: Across the Universe, Random musing — Tags: , , , , — Chinmayi @ 10:41 pm

Here’s another very public instance of a man who murdered a woman who displeased him in cold blood. And again I ask, what is wrong with the world that it allows people like Reiser to mushroom all over the place.

As disturbing as the fact of these crimes, is that for every person that commits this kind of crime are a fair share of others who believe that it is justified, that the violence was probably provoked. There are some disturbing comments tailing the Wired article on the Raiser killing for anyone who is interested.

You could also try and talk about with people at your workplace – the last time I tried discussing heinous crimes, more specifically the Fritzl case, with my colleagues, one person commented that the incarcerated daughter probably brought it on herself and was happy to be raped, and the other suggested that the man made a good moral choice in raping his own daughter rather than someone else’s. Are all collections of people peppered with psychopath-endorsers? Is the world going nuts?

August 21, 2008

Binayak Sen

Dr. Binayak Sen, somebody who has done a lot more for the country than most people, is now a victim of the ridiculous charade that passes off as justice in India. He has been in prison for over a year now. Read about him over here. If you are moved, you could sign the petition to free him.

Imprisonment of people that speak out against the government is becoming unsettlingly frequent. There was Professor Geelani a few years back, Binayak Sen last year and Ajay TG this year. And these are merely the high profile cases that find their way into the media.

So many of us, the Indian middle class, feel so complacent and secure sitting on our plush couches watching fluffy shows like Big Boss on our flat screen televisions and driving to expensive restaurants in our glittering cars. Once in a while, we see newsreports of bombs and terrorists which disturb us a little. Like frightened children swallowing a fairy story to rationalise surroundings that we don’t understand, we accept draconian laws trustingly and have touching faith in the police who we believe will use all this power we give it to shoot all the bad guys and make the roads safe for our new cars.

In the meantime, the people who can see what is really going on and who speak out against it are slowly being erased – the mild form of this removal is that they are ignored and the extreme form of their disappearance is that they are arrested – and we have no idea that this is going on.

Ours is a country where each of us has the freedom of speech and expression, and the right to ask questions when we can see that rule of law is not observed. By ignoring our right and allowing ourselves to be lulled into complacence, we are creating a frightening country for ourselves to live in. And by our indifference we are allowing the few heroes who champion our cause to be annihilated.

August 20, 2008

Songs about domestic violence – III

Filed under: Music — Tags: , , , , , — Chinmayi @ 7:03 pm

Luka, Suzanne Vega

Songs about domestic violence – II

Filed under: Music — Tags: , , , , , — Chinmayi @ 6:48 pm

I’ve Got to Go Now, Tony Childs

Songs about domestic violence – I

Filed under: Music — Tags: , , , , — Chinmayi @ 6:32 pm

Independence Day, Martina Macbride

August 19, 2008

Domestic violence

Filed under: Random musing — Tags: , , , , , — Chinmayi @ 10:50 pm

“He used to beat me regularly”, she said, “he has thrown me down the stairs more than once, overturned a table on me and even tried to run me over with his motorcycle”

I heard this story years ago from a woman in prison. Her husband has sex with her sister-in-law and insisted that she watch and that she massage the sister-in-law’s feet after the act was performed. After years of violence, he had her framed for murdering his mother and (by threatening to kill each lawyer that took up the case) ensured that no one was willing to defend her.

Yesterday, I heard the story of a woman whose husband gagged her and beat her and strangled her with her entire extended family waiting in the next room for her to come out. She told her family that she had been feeding the baby.

Domestic violence. It ranges from physical murder to murder of the spirit. I have never quite understood this phenomenon. So many ‘respectable men’ are actually monsters that thrash their wives regularly, and feel very self-righteous about it too. They behave perfectly well outside. Many of them are even popular and successful. But they hate this woman – the woman that they have sworn to love and cherish – obsessively and delight in hurting, oppressing and torturing her. Where does that come from? And why does everybody skirt around it as if it’s another little lover’s quarrel?

Today, a woman on Rajat Kapoor’s talk show (which is very badly done in general) talked about how she left her husband because he beat her regularly. I was expecting the host to congratulate her on a good decision. A few minutes later though I found that they were discussing whether she had tried to change her husband and why it can anger one’s partner if one tries too hard to change him. Soon she was left looking, not like the survivor that she was, but like a loser that handled her man badly and failed to salvage the relationship. And she watched as the hero of the show, a women with five children boasted about how she put her career on hold and reformed her drunken layabout husband and worked out all problems (hit back instead of filing for divorce for example) and save her marriage.

I am not very likely to watch Rajat Kapoor’s show again. I like the man as an actor but he’s is a stumbling bumbling boring awful interviewer. But I know women who watch this sort of thing. These are women that don’t read very much and that aren’t allowed to move around in the world very much. Their orbit is confined to shopping malls, cinema halls and friends like themselves. And their perceptions of the world are defined by television and shows like Big Boss and Rajat Kapoor’s Lounge.

So if they are taught that virtue lies in turning the other cheek when your husband hits you and in working things out, imagine what must result. Those that are unfortunate flounder desperately seeking to please somebody who will accept nothing short of their misery and pain. And those that are fortunate are convinced that the unfortunate have created their own hell by handling the relationships badly.

And on it goes…so many women get battered behind closed doors, and come smiling and brightly dressed to parties so you never suspect that they’re going home to be battered once more. Their parents, neighbours and friends draw back and leave them to the mercy of their respective tormentors. And he, the inexplicably violent lover, bashes on unhindered.

August 16, 2008

A case of Exploding Mangoes

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — Chinmayi @ 9:35 pm

has restored my faith in the Booker long list. It is exquisite. I have held my breath through most of this book and marvelled through its twists and turns. One word of caution though: if you have not read the book yet, avoid internet-trawling for reviews. Suspense is a big deal in this book, and the thrill of not knowing what comes next adds so much to the pleasure of reading it.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes is very far from being a simplistic thriller. It contains (what seems to my inexperienced eye) an acute and incisive picture of life in the armed forces, politics – internal and international, and a wonderful picture of the paranoia and cocooned universe of a despot. Every portion of the book including the title) has depth and meaning in its own right. There are references to real historical injustices such as the story of Safia bibi (on whom the character Blind Zainab seems to be based).

Mohammed Hanif has done what many brilliant authors tend do with their initial works. He has based the book in a world that he is familiar with, being an ex-pilot officer. But it would do him great injustice to suggest that this is the only reason that the book reads so wonderfully. He has artfully used perspectives, and clever weaved the past and future into the narrative. He makes his threads intersect sometimes, and provides bird’s-eye views from time to time so the reader doesn’t feel lost. He builds everything up carefully and skillfully, and entertains and informs marvellously along the way.

August 15, 2008

Buying books

Filed under: books, Personal, Random musing — Tags: , , , , — Chinmayi @ 1:02 pm

My mother was a huge believer in libraries. While growing up, the number of books that I had read was about 20 times more than the number I owned. So when I started earning, I bought books indiscriminately. I assumed, from years of habit, that I would have no dfficulty at all in reading all the books I bought. But that assumption omitted entirely to account for a tiring job that chained me to my desk for most of the week and compressed my entire personal life to about 15 hours a week so I had little time left to read. But buying books has always cheered me up like nothing else has, although thinking of neglected languishing unread books breaks my heart.

I have been unemployed these last few months thanks to some health issues and a way out. Suddenly I have no income but I do have time to read again. And so I make furtive trips to the bookstore every week and come back with arms full of books and with a lot of joy tinged with a little guilt. Although I have given up buying expensive shoes and perfume, and drinking expensive cocktails, I do wonder sometimes whether all these books I buy are an extravagance.

So you can why I was delighted to read this article which validates my book-buying (along with the Orwell essay referenced by the author). This one is for all those who sneak into Blossom Book House (or your local equivalent) regularly and stare longingly at the pile of books you have gathered wondering exactly how many you can buy without being deemed an out and out libertine. Banish the guilt!

August 8, 2008

Bombay – city of contrasts

Filed under: Across the Universe, Random musing — Tags: , , , , — Chinmayi @ 8:37 pm

If you spend a day, just a beautiful winter day on Marine Drive in Bombay, you will fall in love with the city as I did three years ago. Stay a little longer and you will find that your fascination for the energy, magic and irrepressible growth of the city will be mingled with the deep-seated horror for the apathy and cruelty that is part of daily life in Bombay.

My first night in Bombay was also at Marine Drive, the beautiful and expensive golden seaside strip where every apartment is worth at least a crore even if it is unpainted, ramshackle and crumbling. If you sit with your back to the sea and your face to the road, you will see the most glamourous cars in India pass by. And if you wait until the city goes to sleep (and this will happen well past midnight), you will find an alarming abundance of bodies stretched out on the sidewalk of the road. You will find them stretched out in the apartment complexes that line that road, in front of the all the expensive cars that are parked inside, arising groggily when they hear a car start and interrupting their much needed rest so that the owner of a vehicle which costs over ten times what they are likely to earn in their entire lives may go out and get some ice-cream late at night without running them over. If you take an elevator up to one of the apartments – the ones which are worth over a crore – you will find that the corridor on every floor has people stretched out and asleep on it. In the morning all the sleeping bodies vanish (except perhaps for the occasional drunk) and Marine Drive is sunlight and humming again.

This is almost insignificant in comparison to other parts of Bombay. Parts where children peddle drugs and huge trafficking rings flourish. Gigantic slums and terrible living conditions.

The International Herald Tribune carries a description of the contrasts of Bombay which is definitely worth a read. An excerpt:

Step outside, and you see sedans reeking of new affluence. Sleeping inside are drivers, many of them asleep because they work 20-hour shifts, waking up at 6 a.m. to catch a train, taking the boss to and from work, then to his dinner, then to drinks, then dropping him home at 1 a.m. and taking a taxi back to the tenements.

August 6, 2008

The Decline of the Devadasis

Filed under: Across the Universe, Random musing — Tags: , , , , , — Chinmayi @ 10:16 pm

Devadasis were extraordinarily powerful women years ago. Meddling reformers destroyed the status, respect and place that they held in society by having them outlawed.

For centuries the women that were not obliged to marry, the women that sang and danced and made love with whoever they chose, were very powerful and rich and had rights (such as the right to inherit property) that married ‘moral’ women did not have. This did not go down very well with the Europeans that ruled India or with the Indians who having received a western (christian) education failed to recognise the Devadasi system for the unique power and independence that it conferred on women and were obsessed instead with the ‘immorality’ and ‘promiscuity’ involved. Determined to regulate the Devadasis’ sexuality, they systematically wrecked the entire system and managed to reduce the most powerful women in India to exploited sex-workers.

William Dalrymple has written a beautiful piece in the New Yorker on the Devadasis. It rises from the current day wretched state of the devadasis (who are now regarded as prostitutes) to the glory and power that they once enjoyed, and comes back again to the wretchedness and the hopelessness that these women live with and to how they try (with little success) to cling to old social position of the Devadasis.

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