31 August 2012

A Road with No End

A paper of Theatre Activism by Pritham K Chakravarthy

Photograph from Krishna Gana Sabha

Growing up in a Brahmin ghetto, studying in high-walled convent school, with no men but my own kith and kin I began in cloistered surroundings. Though training in dance and music was a part of it, performance was never thought of as an option. So when I faltered into Sabha drama at the behest of my maternal uncle, it was only seen as child’s play. For some time, they thought, and then she will let it go. But I did not. Never thought of it.

Though I have been involved with Tamil theatre for over 20 years now, to evolve my performing style into a specific form came about in 1996 by default when Gnani, a senior amongst Chennai theatre activists, was making a television serial on 50 years of independence. The script involved a dramatic performance of about 4 minutes. Gnani had done the script based on recordings of Rathnabai set in the early part of the last century and revolving around the stigma faced by middle class widows. When he called me to do it; time was limited and I had no clue about how I was going to do it. It evolved during the shooting, as a kind of ’sit-down-and-I-shall-tell-you-my-story.’ Even then it had not a definite form and was still in its maiden stage.

In 1998, my involvement with Voicing Silence, gender wing of MSSRF took this form into yet another level of maturity. A. Mangai, [a woman theatre director based in Chennai had returned full of ideas after her Fulbright scholarship. She had three interviews with women, done as a student project at the University of Madras, Department of Tamil, which fascinated the two of us from the word 'go'. But reading out one of the scripts to friends did pall our energy, to take it up as a performance script initially. The narration is linear; there is nothing dramatic or dynamic. What is fascinating about an old Dhobi woman talking about her life and donkeys? How do you term this theatre?'

Vellavi (Marudhayi, The Laundry Woman). The Other Festival. 2003

The doubts raised were so loud that Mangai for the premier at Dalit Kalai Vizha [Dalit Arts Festival] decided at the last moment to add song, a chorus and possession dance. I went on stage at 11.30. The piece was preceded by an Oppari [traditional lamentation] performance and to be followed with a Thappattam [a folk drum dance]. We had no idea how our piece would be received. What followed was a surprise to all of us. The piece initially planned to last about 30 mins. took all of 45 minutes when I got off stage. The women in the audience were right on line with me adding to my performance with loud nods and crackling their knuckles. When they actually followed me out into the rain to give me a hug and demand when am I going to do it in Pervakottai, in front of the real Marudhayi [the name of the Dhobi woman], I felt several inches taller. Truly Marudhayi makes me feel like a giant even today every time I speak her words. That play has now traveled a variety of audiences including feminist groups and hard-core theatrephiles.

That led to a long search to read more than what my own femininity limited me with. It was a chance viewing of an, ‘Oh! Feel sorry for us’, type of a film on the aravanis [hijras], which prompted me to go in, and explore that community, which I had selectively forgotten. But, hesitancy of experimenting with my body for a subject like this deterred me for a while.

Nirvanam. Panchagini Human Rights Conference, 2001. Photograph by Venkatesh Chakravarthy

In mid-2000, I personally interviewed six aravanis and came up with a 45 minutes story about a generic aravani, Nirvanam, which was then shaped by members of the Thamizhnadu Aravani Association. Once I had met my aravani sister in a church and started talking to her over a cup of coffee in a roadside stall, things fell gradually into place. It then took five months of meetings with six different aravanis, in my own house, often in the presence of my daughters, sometimes by appointment, sometimes by-chance, in suburban trains, on the beach, at tea stalls, sometimes recorded on tapes, sometimes recorded in memory, but always documented with mutual trust that gave shape to what ‘Nirvanam’ is today. The promise to retain their dignity, portray not just their pain, but their determination and sturdiness in withstanding it, their pleasure in coming into their womanhood, finding solidarity with fellow travelers, and daring to exist against all odds; molded both the form and content of my performance. Being invited to perform at The Edinburgh International Festival 2002 was perhaps the acknowledgment the piece needed to be vindicated.

On my return from the US after my Fulbright, I have been following a similar interview-tell a story pattern to address two major issues along with two NGOs working on those: Domestic Violence, along with PCVC [Prevention of Crime and Victim Care] and Child Sexual Abuse along with Ashreya. In both cases I conducted extensive interviews with victims, psychologists and legal experts before putting my story together. The stories were then dry run amongst experts and in the case of DV victims too. Hands Off and Hit Me Not are today being circulated amongst factory workers, school parents and corporate agencies to create awareness on these issues both in English and Tamil.

In December 2003, Venkatesh Chakravarthy, the person I am married to, was invited to script a play for me based on the behind-the-scene scenario of film actresses in the Tamil Cinema for the ‘Amman and Avenging Women in Tamil Cinema’ seminar. The script of Kannadi, as the piece came to be called, travels from the early 1930s when the Devadasi women, after the drafting of the Abolishment of Devadasi Act in 1934, move to the city to find employment in the Tamil cinema-a process that went on well into the 80s when middle-class anxieties and pressures started acting on them. After its premier at the seminar itself, in English, the play has travelled widely within the city both in English and Tamil and has recently been invited to be performed at the Conference on Post-colonialism and Popular Culture at Stella Maris College, Chennai.

The decision to only tell stories, stories about womanhood, was a conscious one. In 1996 I thought it was only a natural progression to my own evolution. But then the stories I started saying were not mine, though the way I said them were mine. Immaterial to who got the story, from where, I had to find my own comfort zone in putting forth the story which did not have classic Greek literary structures, which were linear, but real, to make the characters true, dignified, and not caricatures. I made false steps. Fell on my face, got up, dusted it and started all over again.

With five full-length one-woman acts, three scripted and performed by me, it seemed that, perhaps, I have there was little new to say on gender. That was when Maitri Gopalakrishna called asking for an appointment. I had not yet heard of the Kuttu Festival 2005. I have been briefly acquainted with Hanne M. de Bruin and P. Rajagopal, but know not much of their working style. 'We, as the curators of the festival would like you to come up with a one-woman piece exploring the Mahabharata from a contemporary, feminist point of view.’ The call was huge and daunting.

I had just two months in which to cover at least five versions of the epic and at least two different commentaries and the themes already taken up for performance by other traditional and modern south Indian theatre, puppetry and dance groups and then zero in on what I would like my piece to cover. Also this was my sixth venture in preparing a text for myself. I had the onus of keeping the piece in line with my agenda of preference, that of ‘performing gender’. When stumbling on to Irawathi Karve’s Mahabharata text, Yuganta, that helped. Then watching the way Vinapani Chawla had spring-boarded from the same text Yugantha for her script on Bhima helped me to arrive at a convincing script based on the life of Dushala.

The emergence of Dushala as a play is embedded into a long Indian history of the treatment of the girl child. In fact, it was the absence of Dushala that made my script. To be born as the only sister of the Kauravas, growing up in the beautiful city of Hastinapur, having watched the entire epic unfold under her eyes, being as much a victim of the circumstances, but remaining a passive agent to all fascinated me. In all the versions I read during my preparation, I could find her mentioned just four times and in all cases only her name. I decided to watch all the other women through the eyes of this silent spectator. Girl child neglect weaved itself into the text with ease. Next came working out the performance itself.

In all my scripts I have given particular attention to clothing and props. While Nirvanam is consciously performed with the clothes I am in on that day and keeping all else to a stark, bare minimum, and keeping in mind to erase my sexuality, Kannadi works on real excess. For Vellavi, the script about the old Dhobi woman, it was colors spread across the performance area. For Dushala I had the choice of recreating the said regal costumes normally used for Mahabharata performances or come up with something more contemporary. Though I had the floor plan of the performance area, I decided to wait until the day of the show itself to work out my style. Two saffron screens already available with the organizers decided it for me. I decided to use black as my beginning and end colours adding a green scarf. The sackcloth skirt, which the Festival’s costumer Margot van Dam, designed became my own stage costume to which I added a mud pot and a long cycle chain. I try not to impersonify the character, but keep both the teller and told separate from each other. That way it avoids the traditional identification with the character and allows her to unfold on the performance.

Dushala. The Other Festival. 2005

If gender everywhere is a social construct, then do I choose my gender to be performed for the day like I choose my costume for the day from my wardrobe? If its other- the masculine-[ only] defines the idea of feminine how do I understand ‘feminism’ -as a transgressive way of life? If culture is not limited to geographical or linguistic distinctions, how do I come to terms with my own past, and thereby function in the present and future? Is my past my own or does the community I emerge from have a claim to it also? Is it then limited by how other communities view this past? Is every deed of mine defined by some dark secret from my past? If all identity is already assigned as something unchangeable, then when do I begin to question the ‘I’ itself and the way my body is circumscribed by this culturally constructed identity? What if, if I let my body break the shackles of these knots; no matter how badly it is hurt in the process and to recognize that I am not alone?

Definition of how I see gender, sexuality, culture, and identity have shifted greatly in this last decade. I have come to understand that all these are fluid and that each one of us operates under very split conditions. Ideally it is this split condition that I would like to explore in future. While reading [the same], I began to expand this idea of split condition to all avenues from where we gather all our conditionings my own studies, my history, my chauvinism of holding my first 30 years with a pride of being Tamil, then understanding my upper caste identity splinters it no matter how much I de-brahminise myself, my first academic step into learning about gender then spreading into more organic expressions of the same in everyday life, my comfort zone of story-telling as opposed to more traditional acting, and my activism is what I would like to marry into my forthcoming performances. Thus they can become not a mere personal journey, but a human journey that can be taken up to study any situation by anybody in the future.

20 December 2010

Dear Santa, I have been a good girl...

Mallipoo & Martini, Times of India

I shifted base three months ago, from a theatre activist in Chennai (still am, a theatre activist), to Hyderabad as a teacher of dramaturgy and film studies. As part of my work, I review movies with my students every week. 

A couple of weeks back, we saw Don Juan Demarco (1995). The class was thrilled, identifying with Depp instantly, and wondered aloud why such an interesting film, which addresses the ultimate male fantasy, did not run - given the fact it had a million dollar cast like Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway. 

Women seemed to arrive at Demarco's sight, gift wrapped. He merely gave them what they seemed to beg for, being extremely servicing, gracious at that. 

Considering our Tamil cinema's angst for inspiration from The Big Nipple, it is surprising that this film was relatively unknown to most of us, besides those in the Torrent circuit. It was easy to pick What about Bob (1991), She Devil (1989), even Memento (1991), but not this, for it could become too close to reality - or pretended reality. 
The lone woman student in my class wondered what it would be if the film was about Donna Juan Demarco. Would she have still been a good girl, allowed to retain her fantasy? Would her shrink have thrown her job in the air and joined her in her holiday?
So, I did a quick web search on Dear Santa, I have been a good girl... to see what the other women wanted this X'mas. (I know what I want!)
There were requests for perfumes, cars and lawn mowers. Even food processors and a cruise - but that told me nothing about what Donna Juan could want, need; or desperately lack.
One is thinking of films like Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) or Chasing Amy (1997), delivered as cleansed scripts, by Hollywood. Women on Top (2000), the title borrowed from Nancy Friday which my friend's husband bought for her, thinking that the book was on Women in Management, was reviewed "that audience couples will be running out of the cinema for food and bed." So much for us claiming that Article 377 has been revoked. We will continue celebrating the hetero-sexual family and its progeny. Dear Uncle Santa, May I have my gift, wrapped in rainbow colours.  

09 January 2010

Morgue Keeper by Charu Nivedita

(Translated from Tamil by Pritham K Chakravarthy )

All characters in this story are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, either living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

THE SEVERED head of a man, about 37, lay by itself on a table. On examination, it was determined that the head had been cut between the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae; the hyoid, the surrounding nerves and blood vessels, the oesophagus and the medulla oblongata had all been cleanly snapped.

I was introduced to your writing very recently. We have become best of friends — our friendship is one that can never be broken. I still can't believe that I can count you as my friend. Sometimes I pinch myself to make sure it's not a dream. The first time I saw your letter, it was like I lost myself.

Laceration 1.5 cm x 1.5 cm, bone deep, about 3 cm below the eyebrow on the right cheek. Several other deep incised wounds nearby, cutting through nerves, veins, and muscle.

Contusion in left medial periorbital region. 2 cm laceration below right eye. Above and below right eyebrow a bell-shaped abrasion with a base of 1.5 cm and 1.25 between base and dome. 1.5 cm laceration adjacent to superior medial margin.

In Chenthatti, a tiny town in Sankarankoil district in Thirunelveli, there is a Muppitathi Amman temple, which Dalits are not allowed to enter. Two Dalits who demanded to be let in were subsequently murdered. An exhaustively researched report on this was prepared, and when it reached the editor’s desk, the editor decided to flesh out the story by digging up further details on the murder of Melavalavu Murugesan. Murugesan was a young man who had been hacked to death 12 years earlier in Melavalavu, a village near Madurai. Perumal thought it would be wiser not to rake up the case at this point; at most, they might publish the old post-mortem report.

I was telling my friend about what was going on at the newspaper. The next day he came down hard on me. He was complaining that I had scratched him like a cat and that his body was covered with my nail marks. That I had broken through that fair skin of his and drawn blood. Poor fellow! He can’t even pronounce your name. He is a green-eyed Dutchman. We looked at each other for a while, full of sorrow. Miserably, he asked me, “Are you developing a soft corner for Perumal?” I couldn't answer right away. Deep laceration on the left side of the neck, 5 cm below the jaw, about 4 cm long.

“His writing is like flowers,” I told him, “It's more beautiful than tulips. It's almost as beautiful as the aurora borealis.” He just stared at me for a while; then he smiled his special smile and said, “No problem, dear.”

After four rounds of Absolut vodka, Perumal was sloshed. In his drunken stupor, he wasn’t quite sure where he was — whether he was still in his office, or fast asleep in bed at home.
It started in a chat room. She introduced herself as Chandini, a first year college student. Shit! Yes, she said she was only 17.Fuck, people will start calling me a paedophile! Really. That’s what she said her age was. Perumal lacks the imagination to have made all this up himself. Whatever he wrote, whether it was reportage or fiction, it was always based on the truth. Perhaps, if he had waited a year before writing this story, he would have escaped blame.

Despite her youth, Chandini already had a boyfriend. Perumal was her second. He had been honest with her from the start. Listen, he had told her, I'm even older than your father.

Who cares how old you are; I want you, came her melodramatic reply, and nothing more was ever said about the issue of age. He guessed that she was probably really more like 35, deceptions of this sort being quite common in the era of hi-tech. You never knew how old an online acquaintance would turn out to be until you saw her in person. But when he finally did meet her, he realized that everything she had said in her chats with him was absolutely true.

Meanwhile, Perumal’s wife Meera was “healing” a 17- year-old boy. She held her magic wand, touched the end of it to the boy’s head, and began to chant. She went on for a good five minutes. Then she removed the wand. But the boy no longer seemed to be conscious. For over half-anhour he just sat there, still as a Buddha statue, and Iswari, the boy’s mother, began to panic. She had never seen him sit this quietly for even five minutes. Iswari’s heart beat fast, and she prayed that he would regain consciousness before he suffered some sort of permanent damage.

What does an Indian middle-class housewife do with her day? Make frequent trips to the ration shop. Bargain for vegetables at the street vendor’s cart. If she’s a working woman, then she stands at the section officer’s desk, sheepishly explaining her late arrival to work. In PTA meetings, she nods her head vigorously to anything the teachers say, like one of those fortune-telling bulls that bob their heads to the beat of a drum. She does the same thing when her husband is verbally abusing her. Perhaps she can pick a quarrel with him once in a while; there’s no ban on that.

Imagine if 4,000 such women were gathered together, made to sit through one of Acharya's spiritual training programmes, then put on a stage and told to preach to an audience. How many of them, after that, would have any respect left for the institution of family? Perumal had no doubt that if all the middle-class housewives were introduced to this eminent spiritual leader, they would all run off behind him.

THE WAR was drawing to a close. The last remnants of the liberation force were using thousands of civilians as human shields. The military advanced, firing. A mother stood in a narrow street, clutching a child to her breast in desperation. The child was already dead. The mother knew she would not be able to make it all the way to her home; but she did not want to abandon the child here in the street, either. She did not know what to do.

There were lakhs and lakhs of people scrambling to rush out of the town. Finally, she discarded the child on the street and was carried off with the crowd. She had to leave the body behind and go.

She had no other option.

Though he had sworn that he would never resort to spirituality, Perumal finally did arrive at it in his fiftieth year. He could have at least kept it to himself, you might think, but no; instead he told Meera about his spiritual guru. And that was it. In an instant, Meera converted to spiritual activism.

Activists — whatever kind of activists they are — have no concern for individuals. Once, Perumal was down with viral fever, and there was not a soul around to care for him. When he messaged Meera at the ashram, she messaged back saying, “Pray to god; he will take care of you.” But neither came, neither god nor Meera, and he had to wait to recover.

Twenty-five years ago, Perumal had been a communist sympathiser. He lost faith in the cause later, but that was a different issue. Back then, he zealously tried to get his first wife to drink deeply of the essence of communism. And the moment she tasted it, she became a communist activist, and left him.

Eventually, he realized that activism — whatever sort of activism it was — had the end result of separating himself from his partner.

Today, his mindscreen was bursting with images of corpses. There was the leader of the Tamils, his face shaved clean, the back of his skull split with an axe. This was the same leader who, to chase his promise of an independent Tamil homeland, had consumed the lives of thousands; but the second he felt the shadow of death flash across his face, he had shaved his cheeks and gone to surrender, carrying a white flag.

In 1996, the presidential post of the village panchayat was reserved for Dalits. Murugesan and others had filed their applications for the post on 10.9.96, but had later withdrawn them because of threats from the upper castes. Then there was a peace meeting. But in the elections that followed, several ballot boxes were stolen. There was a re-polling on 31.12.96. The upper castes boycotted. Only the Dalits cast their votes, and so Murugesan was elected. On 30.6.97, a gang of thirty people murdered six Dalits, including Murugesan. The one who chopped off Murugesan’s head forced the other Dalits to drink the blood that spurted out from it.

Perumal, I get the same pleasure spending time with you as I do playing in a gentle drizzle: the same peace, the same beauty, everything. Sometimes your flawless love, affection, and truth infuses me with the beauty of nature bathed in rain.

It’s the same ecstasy I felt walking in rain while strolling through the tulip gardens.
Tamilarasan was an old friend of Perumal’s. Twentyfive years ago, they had both been so penniless that they had to beg for money to buy a single cup of tea. That was around the time they translated Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge together. After that, Tamilarasan joined a political party and made it as an MP in his very first attempt. A rumour began circulating around the state media that he had earned over 800 crores in a single political deal. The deal was actually worth 10,000 crores, and 800 crores was his kickback — or so they said. Of course, there was no substantiating evidence of corruption, so it wasn't presented as actual news. It just stayed a gossip tidbit.
Hacking wound at the level of the umbilicus, 5 cm x 1.5 cm and slicing through the intestine. 1.5 cm x 5.5 cm laceration with contused margins, 4 cm below the umbilicus, curved at the left end, piercing through to the bowel. Stab-wound triangular in form, 2.5 cm x 1.5 cm, in the left lumbar region.

This generated some animosity against Tamilarasan among the senior politicians of the party. They had been politicking their entire lives, but had never reaped anywhere close to this amount. “Look how much this chap made in a single deal!” they fumed. But the party president and the chief minister had a soft corner for him. “He drops unpronounceable names like Foucault, and writes articles in the Economic and Political Weekly. Doesn’t the party need a person like him?” they said.
On Saturday, the military raided Valignarmadam, Mullivaikaal, Irataivaikaal, Amabalavan, Pokkanai, Maathalan, and Idaikaadu, attacking mercilessly and relentlessly. A seventeen-year-old boy, Santhan, was huddled in a trench with corpses raining down on top of him. The corpse of a child, the corpse of an old hag, a man, a woman… after a point he couldn’t tell the difference. He stayed there squashed between those corpses for a whole day and night, until the relief team arrived and saved him.

MEERA WAS admitted to a government hospital. She had been caught in the crossfire when a gang that had it in for Perumal had broken into their house. Luckily, Perumal’s dog Writer had started barking and creating havoc; otherwise Meera’s story might have ended that very day. Those thugs were massive mountains of muscle. But Writer was not a people- friendly dog. Even when friends dropped in, he would bark away, loud enough to quake the street. He had torn the thugs apart.

She had a large bruise on her neck. One of the thugs had banged her roughly into the wall.

An incised wound 8 cm x 3 cm x 2 cm over the back of the right side of the chest. First and second right ribs chipped in many places.

The air conditioner in the morgue would often stop working. Just the day before, instead of presenting this fact in its own column — for he did not think it very important — he buried it in at the bottom of a page in the classified section. He never imagined that he would feel the effects of this carelessness so early. Meera was attacked the very next night. As it was a police case, she had to be treated in a government hospital.

There was an unbearable stench emanating from the morgue, so Perumal decided to check it out. There he met Kadiravan. Perumal had known him back when he was a communist sympathiser. Kadiravan had stayed in Perumal’s room once, when he had gone underground because he was suspected of involvement in a bank heist.

Perumal knew that Kadiravan had later been nabbed and sentenced to five years, but after that he had lost track of him.

Now, he learned, Kadiravan had two kids. His family was staying in the village. He had driven an auto for a while; then he'd got this job in the morgue, through the recommendation of a former comrade, and had stuck with it. There was a time when he had digested all of Engels and Mao, when the revolution was all that he lived and breathed for. No matter what he started talking about, he’d end up with dialectic materialism. Perumal was in despair, seeing his comrade now reduced to a morgue keeper.

Was this a sacrifice, and if so, for what? Perumal had no objection to sacrificing one’s life for human freedom. But, he thought, so often, we spend our lives on the wrong path, and then we look up to find we’ve already reached our middle age. Here was Kadiravan, ten years younger than Perumal, a mere forty-six years old. And yet to look at him, he seemed ten years Perumal’s senior.
Laceration 7 cm x 3.5 cm x 2 cm over the outer side of the left elbow.Kadiravan told him he sometimes wished he had kept driving an auto. The morgue room could properly accommodate only thirty corpses, but there were around a hundred in it: accident deaths, suicides, anonymous corpses... and several other types, he said. Apparently accident deaths were the majority. “But when actresses commit suicide... things are different. I think maybe I should keep this job just for that, Perumal…”

What he said was, before an actress’ body could be handed over to the family, he would come under pressure from many people who were desperate to have sex with it. “They come here with approval from the dean of the hospital, and offer me bribes in thousands… it’s hard to refuse.”
Perumal, I have seen the world. I dream about going to the moon and watching the earth rotate on its axis. That's the reason I’ve been studying and earning… Valentina Tereshkova, the documentary camera-woman, circled the earth 48 times.

We should see it, this blue globe, glittering in the darkness. What an incredible experience it would be, to gaze on the only place we know as ours! Let’s go around it once, visit its satellite — the moon — and then return.

Are you beginning to suspect she’s loony? Because she talks about seeing the aurora borealis, or orbiting the earth in space?

BUT IT wasn’t Tamilarasan’s writing skills that had made him the darling of the party higher-ups. It was simply the fact that he would happily lick the bum of anyone who happened to be in power. He would shamelessly fall at their feet. He had fallen at the feet of the chief minister so often that people started calling him the chief minister's adopted son. Tamil politics abounds with adopted sons; they are seen as some sort of cultural necessity.

Yes, the leaders were on his side; still, it doesn’t help to make enemies of the seniors, does it? Tamilarasan realized that his 800 crore windfall had sparked envy in everyone’s eyes. He tried to stay away from active politics. He dusted off his fossilised poems and soon had them published in an anthology.

He started nagging Perumal over the phone to attend his book launch. Irritated, Perumal demanded, “Are we intellectual prostitutes?” Just because he entered politics and made it rich and now he’s publishing his poetry to give himself intellectual credibility, I’m supposed to go there and speechify for him? First, decided Perumal, let me figure out how many zeros there are in ten thousand crores. Then we can discuss poetry. So he dismissed Tamilarasan’s invitation. To avoid Tamilarasan, who didn't seem to tire of calling, Perumal asked for a donation of one lakh for his website. After that, the calls from Tamilarasan stopped.

Dusk scatters
at the sound of our whispers.
The ears of night,
fearing our fierce kisses,
seek the comfort of dawn...
at the dreams of
the snail-paced day, and celebrate…
Nudging time with
a single finger,
makes our world

Millions of words like this from Chandini — or maybe a zillion. Perumal didn’t know how to react to it all. She told him she was born and grew up in Norway. Perhaps teenage girls from all over the world send the same sort of messages.

Suddenly, one day, an urgent call came from Chandini. He went to see her, and found that her hands were trembling violently, like the hands of a drug addict. The doctor said it was a symptom of SMS addiction. He even had a name for it. Only I forget it, now…

30 October 2009

The many Indias!

Mallipoo & Martini
Times of India

Just when I was wondering what I should write this week, along came an interview with Wendi Doniger on her book, The Hindus: An Alternative History in a popular weekly magazine on October 26, 2009. I'm discussing this subject because Wendi Doniger claims according to the several versions of Ramayana, Rama was deeply in love with Sita, and had a healthy sexual relationship (thankfully that explains the origin of Luva and Kusha, unlike his own dubious birth story, and participated in some wining and dining with her, before he threw her out, presumably only because he did not want to be judged by his father's standards, as being sexually obsessed. Hehehe...

That set the tone. It took me back  a few years, when I was performing a rehearsed reading from Woman at Point Zero, by Nawal El Zadaawi, at a city college. Apparently someone had remarked, a few days earlier, if they were going to allow pornography to be performed inside the college premises!

Prof. Doniger has been at the receiving end of the stick for the past decade, because she apparently eroticizes Hinduism.  In her defence, she adds she is targeted as she has a double disadvantage: a) She is not Hindu; b) she is not male - maybe because she is not a Brahmin also. The corollary would be that if you were any, or all of the above, you are welcome to nocturnal texts in Hinduism, wouldn't it? I think the primary reason is only that she is not a man. Thankfully, the Hindu brigade hadn't been so hyperactive when A. K. Ramanujam was scripting his Many Ramayanas. 

A 2003 photograph from The Hindu of the Valmiki Temple, on E.C.R.

The first space of suburbs that spanned out beyond the walls of Kalakshetra, in Adyar, was Valmiki Nagar. Those of you who have gone past the Thiruvanmiyur bus terminus and turned into the East Coast Road, must have seen the tiny little temple, bang in the middle of the highway, a few yards before the Marudheeswarar Temple. It is the Valmiki temple, the region's border guardian, for the four fishing communities that used to reside in that area before the rich and the famous squatters. I have not yet discovered how a bandit became the guardian of this community. In spite of various efforts by the state to uproot the temple to streamline the mega cars and the air conditioned buses that ply on that route, it has stayed put. 

Here goes a living alternative history to the mainstream homogenized Hinduism. 

30 September 2009

Men do stare...

Malipoo & Martini
Times of India 

Men do stare at women's bosom - says MSN headline! Wow! The admission of the millennium! Do you, kind Sirs? Only a few weeks back, a Tamil bi-weekly magazine called me to ask for a radical byte on women newsreaders who were told either to remove their thali or hide it, as the TRP ratings fall when the viewer knows she is a "taken" woman. 

It made me think back at the times when we would have to buy a packet of sanitary napkins at the local store. Till date, besides a bottle of liquor or fresh meat, nothing else is packed in a black plastic bag, or wrapped in a newspaper. Not TASMAC. There you buy your bag from the pottikadai next door for a rupee extra, besides the hiked price for the alcohol itself, if you don't want to admit, that you like an occasional drink. I'd rather have advertised the brand of napkins that I used, than haul this massive packet all the way home. Of course, today things have slightly changed - because of supermarkets, where I can quietly pick a packet of condoms along with my kilo of thoor dhal, and not be embarrassed. 

Not that it means that the path of my emancipation has been paved, only that I can afford a supermarket! Remember the 60s when Naidu Hall opened its first store in Pondy Bazaar with a woman's bust dressed in a tight cone-shaped brassier? 

Though women's obsession for shopping had been a long driven joke for the Tamil populace, until today we are able to buy provisions, beauty products, home decors, silk sarees, jewelry... But we are not consulted when it comes to the brand of car, or share investments. Of course, if I can't pay through my nose to buy magic bras, laced panties, lubricated, color, ribbed condoms, and sanitary napkins, in fancy sizes - it is still a pain. 

Hey, while you are busy checking out our sizes, how about peeping into this piece too? 
"A survey of more than 1,000 men in India has concluded that condoms made according to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men." Makes an interesting read, quite thoughtful, about why Indian men are obsessed with my size, but take trouble to hide theirs. This is something that can't be hidden for too long, you see, unless you are determined to stay celibate for the rest of your life? A slice of bacon around doesn't solved the problem. And before I forget, we discuss this amongst us too!