Tag Archives: India

The trouble with being good

In India, we are all kinds of complicated. Being ‘good’ is simply too spartan. We prefer embellishment instead in a myth-making culture that has primed our senses to the make-believe. The contradictions in daily life are immense because of this clash between the bare minimal rules of modernity, goodness, and the florid curlicues of a persistently fictionalising, feudal past. People can be soap-opera mean, as they cannot suppress the urge to  crush and subjugate, top other people, with a kind of remorselessness that is subconscious, ancient and passed down.
Continue reading The trouble with being good

The cannon fodder ladder

wpid-dscn4097.jpgI can’t shake the awful feeling that we are cannon fodder here in the third world. Last month, in the northern Indian state of Chattisgarh under-privileged, poor village women were taken to be ‘sterilized’. Thirteen of them died after operations designed to stop them from having babies. The state government quickly executed a cover-up blaming pesticides in medications for the deaths. But independent fact-finders revealed on December 5 to television reporters that what killed these hapless women were horribly unsanitary conditions. The doctor allegedly did not even change gloves between operations.

On the news again was the story of a group of poor villagers in the state of Punjab who attended an eye-camp and went blind. This is a blip on the news, with added footage of the member of parliament for the area arriving chewing gum, in a big people-carrier carrying only him, in between mouthfuls of gum he mouthed customary utterances like `we are going to find out what happened’. That was it; scapegoats will be found and the blinded will be forgotten in the mess and chaos of this large country.

Continue reading The cannon fodder ladder

North and South: How even geography becomes a source of prejudice


Human geography will outstrip all the cartographic lines we put down on maps. We draw them compulsively, needing to categorise and separate—on the ground, on paper, but somehow there’s no finality. We put a door in the wall and try to feel safe behind it.

But people are always crossing over, lines will always blur and sometimes even our doors get broken down. There is that kind of creeping, assimilating tide washing in from a dominant culture. It will take us over, ingest us and our ideas, our protective lines will be breached and we were too meek to push back.

Continue reading North and South: How even geography becomes a source of prejudice

So much more than just getting robbed

In Jonathan Stone’s ebook ‘Moving Day’, senior citizens Stanley and Rose Peke are robbed of all their belongings on moving day by a team of robbers posing as a moving company.

I have been robbed a few times, but never of all my belongings like the fictional Pekes. It has happened to me twice this year already and every time I have felt deeply violated. The feeling will never leave you and it scars you for life. The character of immigrant holocaust survivor Stanley Peke in ‘Moving Day’ is so finely etched that it helped articulate my own feelings about the incidents in my life. For the first time, after reading ‘Moving Day’, I found a voice for what I had kept unexpressed and suppressed all these years. Continue reading So much more than just getting robbed

The bizarro world of menstrual shame

If I were an astrologer or a mentalist eking out a living, partnering people to planets and constellations, I would want to examine the moon-woman connection. Now it may be a coincidence that cycles of woman and moon match up more or less, and if not serendipitous, I would put it down to evolution not astrology.

It had to be evolution causing some cells whether in human or coral reef to synchronise, react in a given manner to the periodic light given out by planetary bodies in space. If the cells that swim the dermis-bound seas of my body treat the moon like a calendar, then accident or not, it is to do with the way our body clocks look for a reliable anchor in the dimensions around them.

If I am to be connected by a blood grip to any pockmarked rock out in space let it be to this one; Luna, so close yet so far.

Continue reading The bizarro world of menstrual shame

White by another name is fair

We like to cover up, both literally and figuratively. Out on the chaotic Indian roads, otherwise emancipated scooter-riding young girls mask their faces, necks and wear elbow-length gloves. They prevaricate, blame pollution for their protective gear. Melanin, however, is the unstated enemy. Girls reach a certain marriageable age and the sun becomes anathema. We have a euphemism for the desire to be white. It is normalised as a striving to be ‘fair’ or light-skinned. Continue reading White by another name is fair

Why English

‘Beti’, daughter in Hindi

I live every day inside a tower of Babel. That’s what it feels like as I stroll about the Indian cities I have lived in, acclimating to a new language with every move, being an outsider, the alien in the crowd. Around me I hear only babble. If I murmur, they tell me, sometimes reasonably and sometimes with hostility, why don’t you learn our language? I am privy to only so much of anyone’s culture that the few kind people are willing to translate, explain to me. I chose English as a raft to guide me along, through this many-tongued sea.

As a teenager, I once confessed my choice to a teacher and regretted my moment of candour immediately, as she said if you choose English you will never belong, anywhere. Maybe a few months afterwards, I would come across a poem in the library. A verse from this poem by Indian author Kamala Das went up on a wall in my bedroom. It was my answer to everyone. The part that interested me talked of why the poet was determined to write in English, no matter what other people thought of her decision. What follows is the relevant verse from the poem ‘An Introduction’,

by Kamala Das:
….“I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,
I speak three languages, write inIMG_2057
Two, dream in one.
Don’t write in English, they said, English is
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, half Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don’t
You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions,….” Continue reading Why English