Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What Does She Think Of Herself?

A few years ago, walking down the road in Kanpur, I noticed a small boy, holding his mother's hand, walking in front of me. Suddenly, the boy broke free from his mother's grip and ran. He almost came under a car but the driver, a young woman, applied brakes just in time.

"Kya samajhti hai apne aap ko!" the boy's mother yelled while looking at the car -- What does she think of herself!

I was quite suprised by her reaction: instead of scolding the boy, she was getting angry with the woman who had actually saved her son's life by applying brakes in the nick of time. Then I realised, had the driver been a man, she would have at the most shouted, "Dekh kar nahin chalte kya?" -- Can't you watch out while driving? But the sight of a woman on the driver's seat (in the car as well as in life) was a bit too unpalatable for this boy's mother. And therefore, the 'What do you think of yourself.' The mother kept throwing angry, backward, glances at the car till it was out of sight, and only then did she give one slap to the boy for sprinting out of her grip.

It is the 'What do you think of yourself' syndrome that bites the Indian, man or woman, whenever Arundhati Roy writes or says something in public.

I am neither a fan of her, nor a baiter; I haven't even read her, though I am aware of what she writes about because of the noise made in the media. And I think it is commendable on her part to raise issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. In the process, she at least creates awareness and every newspaper-reading Indian gets to examine or re-examine the issue she is raising. The opinion you arrive at after examining the issue is a completely different matter -- you are free to agree with her or disagree with her.

But why go after her hammer and tongs as if she was a witch going to eat up the nation? It was to understand, and perhaps explain, this question that I wrote my previous post. But the point seemed to have been lost. As far as Kashmir or the Maoist movement is concerned, your opinion may be different from mine and I have no quarrel with that. I only sought to address one simple question: why does the whole of literate India seem to be seething with rage every time Arundhati Roy opens her mouth?

She is hardly a threat, after all. She does not run a political party that can influence people. She does not even command a small-time political outfit. She is not even as influential as individuals such as Medha Patkar or Baba Amte. She is not even being a writer -- just a one-book wonder. And yet, so much of rage, so much of anger -- coming from people who have learned to live with the likes of Bal Thackeray and Raj Thackeray?

The answer is simple. Arundhati Roy is a woman -- a woman who is attractive and articulate, defiant and daring, who effectively uses glamour and celebrity to draw attention to the issues she raises. Too unpalatable for Indian sensibilities. Indians must revolt: What does she think of herself?

Had the same views been expressed by a khadi-wearing, jhola-carrying gentleman called Arun Roy, instead of Arundhati Roy, no one would have wasted their time and emotions in retaliating.

There is a genial doctor called Binayak Sen, who spent the best part of his productive life in Chhattisgarh, treating and fighting for the oppressed, and yet languished in jail for allegedly being kind to the Maoists. Now tell me -- and do tell me the truth -- how many of you had even heard of Dr Sen until he was released from jail pretty recently following intervention by the Supreme Court? And yet you bristle with anger and activism when a certain Arundhati Roy speaks her mind on the same issue. Why so?

An Indian woman is supposed to be shy and coy and conforming to the rules set by the society. Until very recently, the storylines of many Indian films, including Hindi films, have been about taming the tomboy. In the first half of the film, the heroine defies tradition and raises eyebrows, but in the next half, she is tamed by the macho hero into being as soft as a snowflake. The audience gave out a collective sigh of orgasm: "Wow, he taught her a lesson." It walked out of the theatre with a smug look, happpy that the social equilibrium remained undisturbed.

The mindset hasn't changed since then. Problems still arise when a woman stops being a doormat and decides to raise issues and ask questions. That's when we Indians take a big gulp and exclaim in outrage, "How could she? What does she think of herself?"

22 comments:

Sudeep Chowdhuri said...

Dear BG,
You are very right about the "Kya samajhti hai..." attitude. However, there is nothing Indian about it - You will also see it in USA too, in Europe too. It is just more subdued because their societal "rules of engagement" do not allow a more blatant display. The syndrome of a women being a woman’s worst enemy is also well known, and also goes beyond Indian borders - didn’t you blog about it some time back?

More to the point, no one is going “hammer and tongs” at Ms. A , they are going “hammer and tongs” at you – can’t you see it? Others can give reasons for themselves, but for myself – please go back to the writing you used to do, the niche you had carved out for yourself, the ones we liked and enjoyed. I am certainly missing both the entertainment and the shock value of your old writing. Don’t lose yourself in the blogosphere crowd.

As a corollary to the above, Ms.A is largely being ignored – other than a few enthusiastic people who prefer to substitute action for words, and say it with shoes. In India, when people go “hammer and tongs” at someone, the effect is somewhat more effective and devastating. If indeed that happens, you can be sure that the charming smile will get wiped out pretty soon.

I did know about Binayak Sen. I can cite a thousand such cases. Did you know about a certain Col. Ujwal Das (an army officer) who was held in Jail for three years without evidence and formal charges? He was a person who was genuinely sick, not Ramalinga Raju type sick, but was denied medical treatment. The point is that you are creating a straw man here. If you are really concerned. Write, and advocate police reforms. Ask, why do we follow a police system which was fine-tuned by the British to subjugate the native population. Ask, why do we follow a police system whose origins lie in the Mughal “Zabardasti” system. The name “Zabardasti” should tell you all about how it worked.

There are so many activists who do truly good work, many women among them. Yet, we don’t talk about them or see them. Instead we talk of, and see Ms. A, along with Ms. Karat and sundry others. If anything, this is the tragedy of our time.

Janani Sampath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janani Sampath said...

Why do we seethe when Roy opens her mouth, when we have adjusted with Raj Thackeray and his likes is your question?

My answer: Raj Thackeray and his likes have for long been the religious extremist forces in the country. However, Roy claims to be an intellect, aware of history, geography, civics and economics of the country. An educated, international award winner, who doesn't spare any serious issue to get her moments of fame.


We are questioning it, not mindlessly censuring her.We are appalled at her reasoning, and shocked at the levels she can stoop to be hailed as a messiah of certain sections of people...

Like Mr Chowdhuri pointed out: there are so many pretty, smart women who are doing great work and they don't make any fireworks like Miss Roy..

It is time she left India alone and wrote another fiction..

Anonymous said...

Mr Ghosh, please leave Ms Roy alone. You are neither entertaining nor enlightening anybody in these posts.
Please do what you do best. This subject is not for you.
Also, please stop being the flag bearer of the fairer sex by bringing in the so-called gender bias issue in everything you write and think. They can manage themselves on their own.

Truly Yours said...

I totally second your view this time. Me being, the untamed version of Bhartiya Naari (more often in the driving seat) have come across such incidents many a time even to keep a count by now.

Abhishek Mukherjee said...

I agree with you on the "kya samajhti hai?" lines. However, I do not agree on the fact that we criticise Arundhati Ray BECAUSE she is a woman. No. That's not the reason. At least not for myself.

Anonymous said...

anonymous at 12.20
i second your thoughts!

Lalit said...

Dear BG,
We all can see (except perhaps yourself)that your ego has been terribly hurt.
You want to be the messiah of all womenkind and to be hailed for your visionary analysis regarding bias against them.
However nobele may be your intentions be, you have trivialised this issue of immense importance into simply a "bias against sexy independent women".
I feel sorry for you. We certainly expect better than this simplification from you, based on your earlier writings. I totally agree with Sudeep here who has put the issue in perspective beautifully.
it is not a issue of gender but of bigotry of so called intellectual professional rabble rouser.

Would request you to write a beautiful piece on some other topic which can bring you applause and soothe your hurt ego so that you can move on.

Soumya said...

I think, only the blogosphere has been going hammer & tongs... just like they went for Shashi Tharoor a few months ago, Aravind Adiga a few days ago!

Soumya said...

Sad that Ms.Roy's house has been attacked....

Anonymous said...

Shed the pretence and return to your favourite subjects -- the boobs and butts.

Anonymous said...

What were you thinking when you wrote this post?

Anonymous said...

Mr Ghosh,You have been trashed enough for justifying Ms.Roy. As you can see, nobody cares a rats ass about her looks. Infact I don't even think that she's good looking. All I see is unkept hair and I bet behind those khol filled eyes,is a very scary woman.
Terrible post Mr.Ghosh. It doesn't make any sense at all.yeran

Anonymous said...

Well, it only gives an impression that you have fallen flat on your face in your attempt to project yourself an intellect.Now, we know your limitations. Best of luck, BG.

Indian Home Maker said...

I too am very puzzled by the amount of anger she seems to invite by simply giving her opinion. What's more, I feel she means what she says, she doesn't seem to be trying to get attention, she seems to be just saying what she actually feels - and since she is not inciting any violence (can't say that for many others)I think she is well within her rights to express her opinion.

Anonymous said...

BG:
I have lived in the US for 15 years and always admired the first amendment rights the Americans have. They can burn the US flag in public and claim immunity to prosecution by invoking free speech. On the flip side, strippers claim their first amendment rights as well to, ahem, strip. Apparently, that kind of free speech is very popular too. Chokher shukh kaar aar bhalo lagey na bhai?

As much as I like free speech and the various trappings that come with it, I think Arundhati Roy is plain wrong on Kashmir. And, a lot of other issues. She has a point of view. But, that is a particular point of view. People don't have to agree with everything she talks about. And, that is not being sexist.

I will tell you what is sexist. If she decides to practice her free speech rights by sitting on a Harley Davidson wearing a bikini in the colors of the Pakistani flag, I would be delighted my friend. But, I think she would have looked better protesting like that a decade ago.

Yours truly
Goru-da

Kislay said...

I cannot but loathe a person who said that we asked for 26/11 . I cannot help detesting a person who supports gun toting people killing off policemen , and sometimes civilians . I can never ever like a person who supports the division of India into further pieces, that too on religious grounds. I fume, when such a person dismisses the cause of Kashmiri minorities, like Pandits, as if they never existed. Today its Kashmir, tomorrow it will be Khalistan , Assam or Nagaland . How hard is it to not remember 1947 and its consequences better known as the Failed State of Pakistan ? The fact the person mouthing such hateful words is a Booker prize winning media savvy and articulate woman is co-incidental . And I do not find her attractive at all . Most importantly, the failed democracy she constantly whines and cribs about is the One which allows her to viciously rant against it and get away with it unscathed .

Janani Sampath said...

@kislay three cheers to ur views... totally agree

Scorpria said...

This is NOT about gender bias at all.

In my opinion, this is about someone using "freedom of expression" to her advantage. When we exercise a "freedom" or "right", we must also be aware of our "duty".

While she exercised her "freedom of speech" by blabbering crap and getting some momentary limelite, how was she justifying any duty to the country!?

Sad that her house was attacked. The hooligans who did that was again exercising "freedom of expression".

She's neither sexy nor good looking. The thing she can do well (not even best), is stick to writing fiction! That's what she should do.

the mad momma said...

actually i've given the matter a lot of thought and i've realised that you're right. that is what it boils down to. a woman isn't entitled to an opinion. particularly one who doesnt have political backing. then we're not scared of dissing her. great piece. thank you for the piece on KK and Rafi too.

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