Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why People Hate Arundhati Roy

I first saw Arundhati Roy on our black and white TV, in a film called Massey Sahib that was directed by her husband Pradeep Kishen. Though at the time I did not know she was the Arundhati Roy. She played the role of a tribal woman, if my memory serves right, and I found her quite attractive.

Then, of course, we all got to know Arundhati Roy. The Booker and all. There were two other people with India connection who had won the Booker before, but Salman Rushdie did not live long enough in India, while Naipaul was never born in India -- they were as good as Brits. The news of their winning the Booker, for the lay Indian, must have been as significant, or insignificant, as the mayor of an American city inaugurating a library. But Arundhati Roy, by winning the prize, brought about a revolution. Just how Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai, by winning the Miss Universe and Miss World crowns, made the average young Indian woman look at herself in the mirror again, Roy's Booker breathed fire into the ambition of the ordinary Indian who had always dreamed to be a respected writer.

I never bought a copy of God Of Small Things: I read a few passages from a colleague's copy and did not feel encouraged to invest money in it, even though those days -- this was in 1997 or 1998 I think -- I was buying books left, right and centre. Maybe I hadn't matured as a reader then, even though I was old enough.

I also never got around to reading any of Arundhati Roy's Outlook articles, maybe a few paras, though, thanks to the debates they always kicked up in newspapers and news channels; I have been aware of what she is writing about. It is clear that she likes to take up the case, or the cause, of voiceless people who do not have a strong spokesperson backing them. And I think that is highly commendable. Take the Maoists for example. If you treat Maoists as enemies, you will never win the battle against them. But if you look into the reasons why Maoist rebels are born in the first place, you might have a solution at hand. But then, an exchange of gunfire is far easier than making an effort to change the system -- so what if a few policemen lose their lives? Maoists, after all, are not enemies planted on Indian soil by al Quaeda: they are our own people -- very poor, very deprived and very humiliated.

When you are living in a big city, say Delhi, where everything is just a phone call away, right from the morning milk to the pizza for dinner, life is so hunky dory that you tell yourself -- "Wow, India has progressed so much! Couldn't have imagined this happening 10 years ago!" True. But it is only the cities that have progressed, India hasn't. In a city, all you need to do is walk up to the gate of your apartment with your child, and soon a school bus will arrive to take the child to school. But in non-urban India, children walk for kilometres to get to school. Just imagine pairs of tiny feet walking five or six kilometres just to get to school. Can it get any more cruel? In many cases, they have a river or a stream falling on the way: they wade through it too.

Now, how many of the pizza-eating crowd have ever bothered to take up the cause of such people -- people who are poor, who live in remote areas, who fight not only their fate but also the system perpetrated by the state? Yet they all like to talk about the harm that Arundhati Roy -- of all people -- is causing to the nation!

What's so drastically wrong if Roy spoke in favour of Kashmiris seeking freedom? Kashmir does not become an 'integral part' of India just because the Indian government says so. It is for the Kashmiris to decide whether they consider themselves to be an integral part of India or not. If they think so, well and good, but if they don't, just too bad. People like us, who don't live in Kashmir and are not even remotely concerned with it, have no business forcing them into being an integral part of India. Cyril Radcliffe had left Kashmir out while partitioning India, but when Pakistani raiders entered the Valley in October 1947, the maharaja acceded to India and since then, the 'Kashmir issue' was born. Even when there was peace in Kashmir, the Kashmiris referred to us as Indians -- which meant they did not consider themselves as one. Slogan-shouting is one thing, ground reality another.

The Indian government is aware of the ground reality, that is why it did not book Arundhati Roy for sedition. I am sure there were many benevolent Britishers who thought that India must be freed from British rule, but I don't think Britain tried them for sedition. That's the beauty of democracy. You speak your mind. The day you are hounded for speaking your mind, you are no longer living in a democracy but in an autocracy.

The real reason why there is so much of anger against Arundhati Roy, every time she writes or says something, lies elsewhere. It lies in the Indian mindset. She is attractive, intelligent, articulate, bold and defiant -- something unpalatable for the chauvinistic Indian, male or female, who want women to be always conforming. So they go after her, hammer and tongs, even while being indifferent when serious cases of corruption are exposed day after day. Recently I put a status message to this effect on my Facebook profile, and was greeted with several angry comments. I would like to quote from two of them:

-- Can the freedom of speech in a democracy be stretched to challenge the sovereignty and integrity of the country? Rights come to citizen along with responsibility. Citizens should heckle her instead of government doing that.

-- The anger of people has increased with every irresponsible statement she made which has shown complete disregard to this nation. The nation cannot sit back and ignore her when she keeps on making those politically provocative statements again and again and again!!!

Nation. Sovereignty. Integrity. Big words. But, then, we are a big nation. A very big nation. Yet threatened and outraged by the views of just one woman activist. Why?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Till I Met You!

Today is Kishore Kumar's death anniversary. Kishore Kumar! -- I can do without women, but not without his voice. Never.

His songs mark my existence, they are the core of my being. People associated with my childhood, my growing-up years will fade one day -- my mother is already gone -- but Kishore Kumar's voice will remain just as fresh, an unbreakable pillar from the past.

He sang countless songs, most of which I like, needless to say. But there is one song which I totally identify with -- beautifully written, composed and sung. I am proud to say that the lyricist is on my friend's list on Facebook (I was the one who shamelessly added him out of hero-worship), which means he is very much a part of the present and not yet of the romantic, unreachable past. Am talking of Amit Khanna: he wrote quite a few memorable songs for Kishore Kumar, the best known among them being Chalte chalte, mere yeh geet yaad rakhna, kabhi alvida na kehna...

But this song is special. Lie back, plug the earphones, shut your eyes and -- enjoy!

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Women Versus Women

Last week, I attended the debate that Outlook magazine has been organising in major cities to celebrate 15 years of its existence. This being Chennai, the subject of the debate was 'Moral Policing in a Democracy.'

It was a lively debate, with plenty of active participation from the audience, and I am fortunate to have attended it. The audience kept booing a former vice-chancellor of Anna University who, during his tenure, had forbidden jeans and T-shirt on the campus, the reason being if female students wore jeans and T-shirt, it would distract the teachers and therefore education would suffer.

Supporting him was Dr Tamilisai Soundarajan. This lady needs introduction. Her father, Kumari Anandan, is a well-known Congress leader from Tamil Nadu, but the daughter chose to join the BJP and even contested the last elections from North Chennai. Dr Tamilisai is also a medical doctor.

"I know it better, because I am a doctor myself. There is something called excitement," she thundered, seeking to explain medically the effect that the sight of a T-shirt/jeans-clad female student can have on the male teacher. I wanted to ask her two things:

1. Madam, by the same logic, male doctors should not examine female patients. What if the stethoscope keeps landing at the wrong place out of excitement? Worse, what if they wrote the wrong medicine out of excitement?

2. Madam, if the teachers get excited by the mere sight of a T-shirt-clad female student, do they deserve to be teaching in the first place? Did they complete their PhD's in a jungle, living in a cave?

But I didn't ask her these questions because she was already being hounded. Moreover, I was just a fly on the wall, taking notes: I was determined not to become a participant. By not being a participant, one can write with total objectivity.

But one statement made by the lady keeps ringing in my ears -- and mind you, she is a doctor! When the subject came to young people visiting pubs, she shouted:

"If you see your sister or daughter drinking in a pub, won't you give her one tight slap and drag her home?"

The panelists cringed. And then she thundered again, "I am a doctor, I know the harmful effects of alcohol."

I don't really blame her. She was merely echoing what you call the typical Indian mentality. In my personal experience, I have seen it is the women who have all the fun in the parties and the pubs because they know how to hold their drink unlike the men who are prone to get drunk and therefore more susceptible to the ill-effects of alcohol. But never did Dr Tamilisai say, "If you find your brother or son drinking in a pub, won't you give him one tight slap and drag him home?"

The men are excused, you see. The onus is on the women to be well-behaved and keep the so-called Indian culture together. A man can go out of town on work and gladly romance a colleague or engage a sex worker, nothing happens. His wife might give him hell if she ever finds out, but the society merely winks mischievously. But if a working woman were to do the same, the scandalised society would take it upon itself to brand her a slut.

Indian society is still very primitive and chauvinistic, which does not appreciate a woman taking her own decisions. Even something as simple as having a drink all by herself is likely to be met by raised eyebrows. An Indian woman, if at all she has to drink, must do so only in the company of her husband or boyfriend or when she has a bunch of friends over. If she enjoys a drink all by herself, and if people come to know about it, they call her a 'loose character'. How can a woman enjoy a drink alone? So hard to digest she is having fun without the permission or approval of a man. That is the truth, and no one can deny it.

When I say chauvinism, I don't mean male chauvinism. Women, in my opinion, are the biggest enemies of women. One does not like the idea of another having a good time. Often, such jealousies are the result of grapes being sour. A woman who has never been asked out by a man for a cup of coffee or a drink will always look at couples sitting in a coffee shop or a pub with a tainted vision. Imagine two women living under the same roof, say hostel mates. One gets all the male attention, while the other gets none. You will invariably find the one, who does not get the attention, constantly warning the other: "You must be careful with men. You don't know what they are capable of. Avoid them." But if the deprived woman happens to find attention as well, then man ceases to be an evil creature and the hostel room becomes a rosy place to live in.

It is not too difficult to find one woman sympathising with another for having an abusive or an impotent husband; but if the aggrieved woman happens to have a one-night stand or feels good in the arms of another man, she is instantly branded as loose-character by the same sympathising woman.

and I am with you;
Seek pleasure,
then to hell with you.

That's the kind of emotion that works between women.

It is quite evident from the angry comments that my previous post has attracted. It is the story of a woman called Ms C, who is bold as well as beautiful (and therefore more of a threat to women than men),and who, one night during a party, has no-strings-attached sex with a colleague of her husband in his car. She has a good time, and the next morning she wakes with no sour feelings but only a backache caused by the lack of space in the car. I wrote that how I respected her for being bold enough to enjoy sex for the sake of sex without inventing an emotional excuse.

But no one agreed with me. And then it struck me, why so. I realised that if you are Indian woman, certain rules apply:

1. You should not think of sex unless there is a man who grants legitimacy to your thoughts;

2. You should not even dream of having sex with any man other than the one mentioned above;

3. You can have sex with another man, but for that you need to be sufficiently 'carried away';

4. But the next morning, after being 'carried away' the night before, you must be found choking with guilt, shedding copious tears, even contemplating suicide. It is very important that you show signs of guilt or else the society will put the 'Loose' stamp on your character certificate.

But if you don't comform to these norms, you are branded a slut. And why? Not because of morality -- because no one has been able to define morality -- but only jealousy.

Ms C, after all, is a woman to be jealous about. She is beautiful and she is bold. She falls for the charm of a man and decides to have sex with him, without inventing stories in order to justify her act. Why should she justify it -- and to who? She is pretty much sure what she wants. All she wants is good sex for that night and she gets it. The next morning she does not wake up with suicidal thoughts or shed tears of guilt. She goes to work as usual, ableit with a backache.

Now that's what is needling people, who can't digest the fact that an Indian woman can enjoy sex with a stranger and at the same time wake up the next morning without a trace of guilt. Oh boy, how can a good-looking woman decide to enjoy sex on her own: shouldn't somebody tame her and tell her about moral values?

But no one grudges a man enjoying sex. In fact, the society conspires to see to it that he gets to enjoy it, legitimately or illegimately. But when it comes to women, the society is jealous. Women are a source of enjoyment, how can they seek enjoyment -- it is highly immoral!

I know for a fact that the baiters of Ms C are mostly women, because men would only like her tribe to grow. It is the women who disapprove of her action and the explanation is simple: "How can you enjoy it, you bitch, when none of us can't?"

And finally, a word for those troubled souls who, every time I write on the subject of sex, ask me the same 'What if your wife' question. Such souls never go into the merit of a post and instead choose to get personal and dirty.

Dear Troubled Soul, if you think I am a hypocrite who advocates free sex on one hand and at the same time cringes at the thought of my wife going for it, you are wrong. Perhaps you are the kind who tells himself or herself every now and then, "Shucks, how could I even think about it? What if my spouse did the same to me?" But unlike you, I have the luxury of expressing my thoughts freely because that's the way I want it. If you don't know how to speak your mind you are a vegetable. And my thoughts are neither a slave of my wife's presence, nor is my wife the slave of my presence or my thoughts. We are two individuals who respect each other and who do not let insecurities curb each other. Does having a wife mean that I, as a writer, should not express my thoughts on sex? Does having a wife mean that I cannot stand up and clap for Ms C?

I am here to stand by my beliefs, not to entertain the insecurities that you express.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Backache

It's a true story and a recent one, something that happened last Saturday.

Ms C, a strikingly good-looking woman, hailing from Punjab but currently living in Chennai, had accompanied her husband to a dinner party organised by his office. It was a gala event, held on the lawns and attended by nearly 500 people. It was one of those sophisticated evenings when alcohol and perfume combine to give off a smell that tickles you in the right places; when women look magnetic and the men attractive; when decorum mingles with flirtation and they together lend a certain sexiness to the evening air.

Ms C's husband can be counted as attractive, the well-bred sort who can charm women as well as men. I have seen him several times, but never met him or shaken hands with him. For that matter, I don't know Ms C too well either -- I have been, as they say, only on 'Hi-Hello' terms with her. But I know about her quite well: how she locked her husband out one whole night just because he had forgotten their wedding anniversary (the poor man sat on the stairs till the milkman came in the morning); how they made love seven times in a single day during a subsequent wedding-anniversary trip to Mauritius; how she was thrilled when the husband presented her a diamond pendant on her birthday (I even know the price of the pendant: "Half a lakh rupees").

All this I know because Ms C's best friend and confidant happens to be a friend of mine. They work in the office and during lunchbreak every afternoon, Ms C invariably pours her heart out to her best friend-cum-colleague. Occasionally, some of the titillating details find their way into my ears.

So last Monday, a day after the dinner organised by her husband's company, Ms C walked into office with a severe backache. Everybody at the workplace sympathised with her and asked her to take it easy: the world never lets a pretty woman suffer. And then, during lunchtime, the reason behind her backache came out tumbling. She had had too much sex.

During the dinner night, Ms C had fallen for the charm of a husband's colleague. She had never met him before, he too was seeing her for the first time. Sparks flew, and while the husband was busy making small talk with his bosses, they slipped out to the parking lot and made love in his car. It was a Maruti 800, which has enough room to hold a small family but is small enough to contain the lust of two people. So space was a constraint and therefore she got a terrible backache.

Apart from the physical pain, Ms C had nothing to complain about. She had had a good time, she said. She finally had sex with someone she liked instantly, without making elaborate mental preparations to explain or justify it. It was a fuck for the sake of a fuck: no mess to clear up the next morning, except attending to a backache.

All these years, I had never thought very highly of Ms C -- she was too flawless and model-type to be taken seriously. But once I heard the backache story, my respect for her touched the sky.

We all want sex -- good sex, actually. Sex is something which even animals have, but good sex is something that remains invariably elusive to the lay human. And therefore the search. We often go to great lengths looking for it, and even after having found a potential source, spend a substantial part of our lifetime wondering -- should I or should I not? And even if we decide to go for it, another chunk of the lifetime is wasted in cooking up a socially-acceptable justification for the desire to have good sex. By the time the sex happens, it is so deliberately mired in emotions that pleasure goes out of the window.

Sex is actually an act of pleasure -- procreation is a pathetically secondary purpose. Gandhiji looked down upon sex as a tool of pleasure; he wanted the act to be strictly reserved for procreation, if at all the need arose. But in order to procreate, you need to be sufficiently pleasured to carry out the act of procreation!

Gandhi, for that matter, was married at 13 and became a celibate only at 36 -- after a good 23 years of what they call marital bliss. Twenty-three years is a long, long time to have -- or enjoy -- sex with the same person. But, strangely, in the autumn of his life, when he was old enough to be a great-grandfather and should have abandoned thoughts about sex anyway, Gandhi was still testing his will power to resist the pleasures of sex by coaxing women to sleep naked with him -- disregarding the psychological impact his bizzare acts might have on the young women. In the present day, the so-called 'Brahmacharya experiments' would have landed Bapu in jail under multiple charges of sexual harrassment.

And here is Ms C, who had one clean experiment with pleasure. No psychological residue, no ugly remnants. Only a good feeling and backache.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Appetite For Life

In precisely three months, I will turn 40. I hope to write a long and sentimental post a few days before I reach the milestone -- the milestone that officially marks the entry to middle-age. But right now, when the time is 3.20 am and when I was quite busy rewriting a chapter for the Chennai book, I don't know why the thought suddenly struck me that I would be 40 soon.

Maybe because this evening, when I went to work, the office boy handed me an envelope that contained four Mediclaim cards. Two things struck me as odd: no. 1, one of the cards issued was in the name of my mother, who is now up in heaven (my fault: I should have officially communicated to the people concerned that my mother is no more, but I presumed they all knew); no. 2, on my own card, my age was given as 40. You can fool the world but you can't fool the HR department which is instrumental in getting you medical benefits. If your date of birth is December 26, 1970, the HR guys are naturally going to calculate your current age to be 40: they won't wait for the clock to strike twelve.

Fuck, I am forty! Fuck time, really. The bitch makes no noise while it is ticking away. It deliberately ticks on the sly, as silently as possible, so that it can spring surprises on you just when you are feeling good about life. What a sadist bitch, I tell you. She sucks your blood without you realising it, and then one day you look carefully into the mirror and discover the damage she has done. By then it is too late.

But it is never too late. Show the middle finger to her and you might just live. Ms Time must realise we no longer live in the pre-World War II era when tuberculosis cut short promising lives even while they were in their forties: D.H. Lawrence and George Orwell, to name just two. Today, life begins at forty. And that's because our parents are living much longer and their assuring presence makes us feel like kids even whle we are in our thirties. The forties, therefore, is the new teenage. So celebrate, ladies and gentlemen!

But we all know such a celebration is only delusionary: forty, after all, is forty and not fourteen. Real celebration is when you are able to turn the tables and screw Ms Time so hard that she doesn't dare touch you until you have seen at least 88 summers. Am talking about Mr Henry Miller. He was no Hemingway, but he was no less. Both Miller and Hemingway survived the two World Wars and lived happily ever after -- none of them died of tuberculosis. And the reason for this, according to me, was their libido and appetite for life.

I have hope. I not only share Mr Miller's libido and appetite for life, but also his date of birth.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Break-Time Thoughts

Tonight I feel like taking a break from writing and coming back to the arms of my long-neglected blog -- and maybe write something about writing. There is little else I have been doing or thinking about these days that is worth articulating on Ganga Mail.

I have been writing like a madman; and when I say writing, it does not mean I am producing thousands of words when I sit in front of the computer with a bottle of whisky at my feet every night. There are times when as many as three hours are spent on composing a 15-word sentence. That speaks either very highly or very poorly of my skills as a writer. And there are times when an entire night is spent staring at the screen and nothing writing-worthy comes to mind.

But then, as I have always said and believed, writing is something that comes to you. You cannot go to it. But for writing to come to you, you must be in a state of readiness to receive it. And you can be ready only if you are already at the computer, toiling with words for hours or weeks or months together -- and then the sentences that you've been wanting to write come magically to you.

I can't call myself a writer yet because I've published only one book and another is still being written. But I know well enough by now that writing is an extremely lonely exercise: nobody thinks you are doing anything of consequence until the final product is out in the bookshops. So you are left to your own devices. Friends try to help of course, but you can't expect them to jump up in excitement every time you scream, "Eureka!" They have their own things to do.

Writing, in my opinion and little experience, is not so much about what you write but how you write it. And that's the most painful part: to summon the words that accurately describe the situation or emotion you are seeking to convey to the reader. The simpler the situation or the emotion, the more difficult it is to get the right words and make a sentence out of them. Alcohol sometimes helps, while sometimes it makes you go overboard. Eventually, it is only in a sober state the next morning that you decide how exactly a particular sentence should read. So Eureka again, but you keep the Eureka feeling to yourself when you are sober. And then night falls -- time again to dash naked across the virtual street to flaunt your achievement with words in a drunken state. Eventually, a book gets written. Hopefully, I get to write mine soon.

The title of my second book has just been decided, finally, and 40% of the manuscipt is sitting in a folder on my computer. The remaining 60% is still in my head, waiting to be fleshed out. Obviously, many more agonising months lie ahead. After all, I am not Hunter S. Thompson, the legendary American journalist who made writing look as simple as chewing gum.

Apart from writing, I have also been reading a lot these days. By reading I mean dipping into books that I've been constantly ordering from They are books I would like to read cover to cover -- someday maybe -- but since I don't have the time to do so right now, I fish for passages that provide me with the required nourishment to keep me going with the manuscript.

I shall reproduce one such nourishing passage, from The Gonzo Papers Anthology, a 1,200-page compilation of Hunter S. Thompson's dispatches as a journalist, which I ordered recently from Flipkart:

Dear Colonel Giang,

I am the National Affairs Editor of Rolling Stone, a San Francisco-based magazine, with offices in New York, Washington and London, that is one of the most influential journalistic voices in America right now -- particularly among the young and admittedly left-oriented survivors of the antiwar Peace Movement in the 1960s. I'm not an especially good typist, but I am one of the best writers currently using the English language as both a musical instrument and a political weapon...

The last line, oh, the last line.