Thursday, February 20, 2014

I am allowed to hate my home and love it too...

There have been two periods of my life when I couldn't wait to get out of India. Once when I was in 11th standard. For about six months I had decided I wanted to live in New York like those beautiful people on Friends. I would be like Rachel and Monica living in a nice NYC apartment talking about my first world problems. India was no good and I was meant for bigger things. I was meant for America. The first chance I got, I would leave and never come back.

Of course immediately after my 17th birthday, the American economy collapsed and the subprime mortgage bubble broke and I quietly congratulated myself for being in one of the fastest growing economies in the world - India. Who needs America when you have festivals, colour, beauty, a million languages and so much to do right here? I would make my home in India, I decided.

The second time I truly considered moving to America was when I visited my sister in California last year. It was a month of bliss. The weather was beautiful. I drank water out of the tap and was not worried. There were cycle tracks everywhere I turned. Beautiful trekking trails. Mountains and valleys. Hardly any traffic at all. And I could wear shorts and go for runs and no one would bat an eyelid. I think that's what appealed me to the most. I felt safe in whatever clothes I wore. In India I think twice about wearing something before going out, I enjoyed real freedom staying with my sister. I wore anything at all and was not remotely worried. She lives in one of the safest neighborhoods I have ever been in and I felt truly safe for the first time in my life. So, when I came back home I thought about it hard and long. America meant I would be closer to my sister and niece. And it also meant less pollution, better beaches, cleaner trails and I could run without worrying about some random man attacking me. But India is my home.

I have spent the last 10 years of my life using public transport in this country. Think Mumbai, Calcutta, Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and even Hyderabad. I like public transport. You don't have to worry about weaving in and out of traffic and you can put on some music, take out a book and you can enjoy some "me time", till the chaos of the day takes over. But it hasn't always been like that for me. I was 17 when I had to first handle my first frisky "uncle". In Chennai they are famous. They come stand right behind you. And slowly they will put their hands on your hips. Some women squirm. Some women move away. Some women fight and some even ignore. I didn't quite know what to do when it first happened to me. I turned around startled. The man smirked almost daring me to scream at him. I came home in angry tears.

Of course I learnt to protect myself. I would loudly tell them to remove their hands. I would physically grab their hands while crushing their fingers and push them back. I would also sometimes (if I had the energy), fight. All this time it should also be noted (so the moral policing aunties and uncles won't claim that I was asking for this with my attire), I wore salwar kameezes as they were the dress code of my college. In a week I turn 26. I have had men flash at me. I have had men whistle at me. I had have men scream obscene words at me. And every time I have tried to fight back, I have often found myself surrounded by apathy. "You are a girl. This is India. It is for your own safety to be quiet and ignore." These are words I am very very used to hearing from people.

So why do I blame India? The truth is women are badly treated across the world. It's not an Indian issue. It's just that in India, I see it happening more in open. It's more accepted. I read everyday about young girls, women, aunties getting attacked, raped and worse. And every second you can trust me some girl is being harassed. But we tell ourselves that it's not the's the singular man in question. Does this mean India as a nation is not to blame at all? I don't buy into that theory. While the whole world is often described as a "man's world", in India, it is hard to be a woman at all.

After all this is nation where Sati was once glorified. Where widow re-marriage is still an anomaly. This is the nation where the boy-girl ratio ( 917 girls to 1000 boys) is so skewered because parents simply do not want a girl child. Where young girls are held back at home and not allowed to attend schools. Where dowry still exists. Where there aren't even enough bathrooms for girls in government schools. Even girls who are highly educated are expected to get married at 25, have kids by 27 and cook perfect meals while also having the perfect jobs. The Indian society has lived for centuries and decades under the impression that having a girl child is a burden. When a girl is raped, women snigger and say that she ought to have dressed appropriately. This is a nation where marital rape is not recognised by law. So if a woman was to be raped by her husband, he can get away with rape and she will never see justice meted out. She will never get justice. So, we can't blindly put the blame on the men who think it is their right to mistreat women, centuries of reinforcement in the nation has led them to believe that they can in fact get away with murder.

But why am I still here? I know a lot of you who love love love this nation, don't like to see it criticised. Would you even believe me when I say that I love this nation too? After all I have described it as being the perfect hell for women. The truth is I love my country. I want to see it prosper. I want it to be corruption free and safe for men and women alike. I want children to get the best possible education regardless of their economic strata and I want the caste system gone for good. But in order for this happen, I have to acknowledge that there is a problem. I can't get angry at the foreign tourists who come here and then talk about how their safety was violated. Their safety is often violated and I cringe every time I read those stories. I feel embarrassed for my nation. And I want it to get better.

After all this is my country. My home. I love the colours. I love the festivals. I love its broken roads. I love the overcrowded trains. I love its smells. I love its mountains. I love its people too. I love bhajjis you get outside Besant Nagar beach. I love how sometimes when you least expect it, a man will let you take his seat on the bus just because he noticed that you were tired. I love its bad movies. I hate its item songs. I love running in Cubbon Park early in the morning. I love travelling and discovering parts of this country that are brimming with history and tradition. I want to be part of its redemption. I want to pay the taxes here and be part of the solution. I want to be there when the roads get fixed. I want to be there when a politician surprises us by doing his/her job for a change. I want to be there when every child in the country has access to education. And I want to be there when women are not blamed for everything in the world. Where mothers-in-law don't kill their daughters-in-law for not paying enough dowry. Where infanticide does not occur. And that can happen only when good conscientious Indians stay back and try to create a new nation where women don't feel like they enter a battlefield every time they leave their homes. I will criticise this country. Because I love it. And I know that by sweeping the problems under the rug will not solve them. The dirt just accumulates. I love India and hate it sometimes. But I am not going anywhere. This my country and my home and it's not safe for me yet but one day it will be. I won't stop fighting. Because India is my home. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

That damn phone - a note on Valentine's Day

So I bought this ugly boxy Nokia phone set four years ago. It was a cheap set even back then and it started malfunctioning about the time I bought it. But I bought it with my shitty salary from my first job and I learnt to live with it. Then a funny thing happened - I got attached to my piece of shit phone.

The phone stopped working properly (and almost entirely) about a year ago. It had already lived past its prime. As my friends and family went onto to buying newer phones and started using words like 'Whatsapp' and 'BBM pin number', I used SMS and called people to talk. 3G? Well, I still have no idea what it's like to have even decent internet connection on mine (technically it supports internet but my phone has its own personality and it refuses to connect me to the World Wide Web). The screen no longer works and it shuts down at random hours. And just when I think it has died for good, it perks up again and reboots itself. Some might even suggest that my phone is haunted.

So why don't I simply replace it? Well, I fell in love. To the little piece of shit. I like the way it fits inside my bag. When I put my hand inside the side pocket of my backpack, I know it's there. I like how it feels when I hold it. And even though the keyboard no longer displays digits (they have all eroded), I have muscle memory when it comes to typing things out. I have used this phone to spend hours talking to my friends, crushes, family and Tata Docomo helpline guys (Docomo sucks but I refuse to change it as well because I can't let go). I have lost this phone in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai. Weirdly enough it has always come back to me. My friends claim that it's so ugly and useless that no one in their right mind will steal it. They are probably right.

So when I know it's just a possession, why I can't I let go? Perhaps this is an observation on my own personality. I get attached. Simple. I won't let go of the book I bought several years ago that's tattered and utterly unreadable. I won't get rid of worn out shirt unless my mom throws it in the dustbin. I have never been able to let go of my football club (and boy have I tried). I hold onto to things I love and sometimes things I hate (or both at the same time) and it takes a miracle for me let go of something. I have a toy ghoul that I have lovingly christened my boyfriend. I have had it for eight years now. My mum has tried to get rid of the hideous looking thing for years now and she has been unsuccessful every time. He's my broken ghoul and I love him.

But perhaps there is something else happening here. After all, I have been able to let go of relationships (although takes me longer than other people), and things I have owned in the past. I am attached to things that are broken. Things that no one else will love. Things that are different. Things that don't make any sense at all. Perhaps I identify with those disjointed pieces.

Or maybe I am digging way too deeply into my own psyche over a piece of shit phone. Maybe I am just cheap, who is trying to find greater meaning to nothing at all. Either which way, I have sadly sadly come to the conclusion that it is time to let go of my baby. It breaks my heart genuinely. I am going to miss my POS (piece of shit as I call my phone lovingly). And I am going to replace it with a shiny new toy. Something that's not broken. Something that will make communicating with my friends and family much easier and actually doable. But it won't be the same. It won't have the same quirks as my POS. It will just be like every other perfectly serviceable phone you find in the market. But I refuse to throw away my old phone. It has stood as a testament to my life and it shall stay with me by my side even if I am not using it. When you love someone, you will know when it is time to let go of them. And I know it's time for me to let go of my phone. It has served me bravely and honorably. It has huffed and puffed and worked even when it went against basic logic and science. And I love it to bits but it knows and I know that it can no longer keep chugging along (the audio is out). And hopefully some time this month, I will find the conviction in my heart to go out to the world (and inside a Chroma) and bring home a new member of my family. A new item that shall populate my small world. And hopefully I shall learn to love it too.