Feminism, society and other thoughts…

Regular readers of this blog will know how much of time and space I have dedicated in the past to feminism and social ills. They will also know that for some reason, my feminist rants have decreased in intensity and frequency over the past year. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my blogging frequency has itself decreased over the past year. But, there is something more. I don’t feel like writing about feminism any more. One reason is that I do not want this blog, and by extension me, to be stereotyped in any way: feminist, right-wing, technical, random. It is not so much a deliberate refusal as a natural manifestation of my rather diverse set of interests. The second reason, albeit to a much lesser extent, is that I see no change. I seemed to have exhausted my energies in talking about all that is wrong with the world. Until now. I have no idea why I am so disturbed by the current state of affairs, but I am. Several factors come into play.

The results of the recent census are less than reassuring. They only add to our human development woes by confirming what we already knew. With a sex ratio of 914 females to every 1000 males, the sex ratio is negative. The female foetus, and subsequently the girl child, is biologically more resistant to illness and hence more capable of surviving hostilities. But not even this protection offered by nature makes the child capable of combating infanticide and sex-selective abortions. What can an unborn child do if the mother and her family are determined not to allow her to be born? Every indicator of human development shows that the female is worse off in India than her male counterpart: education, life expectancy, health…name it, and the men have it better. If you add to this concerns and indicators specific to the female gender like maternal mortality, you have a rather dismal picture.

However, the census is not the only reason I feel the need to talk now. Mom has been watching a Hindi soap dubbed into Tamil (disgusting, I know!) on Vijay TV. It is, to put it mildly, absolutely infuriating. The story of a young woman engaged to be married to the only son of wealthy parents. So far, so good. But every single scene and every single situation in the soap rankles by sensitivities. First, the girl is barely 20. She considers it her good fortune to have found a good groom so early in life and to be allowed to complete her education. And here, I was thinking we had stepped out of the 12th Century! And my grouse does not end with this soap alone. Every single soap I know on television, Hindi, Tamil or other plays to the same gallery. Young woman, married and has kid, abusive in-laws, drunken husband, struggling to complete education and resigned to fate….aaargh! Alternatively, the girl is happy and content with her husband, the car, the kids and the in-laws and has no life so to speak! Either way, all these stories revolve around marriage as the ultimate goal in life, rather than real happiness! And in case you didn’t realize, what they really want to convey is that the only way you can really be happy if you’re a woman is to get married and stay married to the right man! Give me a break! Are we really in the 21st Century?

Not that I am against marriage or relationships, or that I think these things are irrelevant to happiness. I do believe that relationships (of whatever kind: friendships, marriage, family et. al) are important to happiness, but do not believe that my life’s ambition should be to find the right man and get married. It is the focus on marriage to the exclusion of all else that I object to, as to the glorification of suffering. Why is it considered a feminine virtue to suffer in silence when subjected to all kinds of torture? And really, why is every soap I know so regressive in nature? Why does a woman have to be an all-forgiving, all-accepting person?

And finally, the obsession I see all around with having a male child. I grew up in a family of girls, and never in all these 28 years of my existence has anyone ever made me wonder why I was born female. Girls are pampered and cherished by practically every member of my extended family. This is perhaps why this obsession with having a boy is so alien to me. Friends, colleagues and so many other people I know want a male child, despite having a daughter, sometimes two. What’s the deal there? I’ll never get it!

I really think we need to stop telling our daughters that Sita is the epitome of Indian womanhood. We need to stop drilling into their heads that they will never be happy unless they have a man in their lives, no matter how much of a bastard, pardon my language, he really is! And also stop telling them they need to have boys to continue the family name! But, as I said earlier, some things will take a long time changing. I only hope my generation steps out from these societal confines and dares to think differently. I hope.

Indian media and the credibility crisis

For the first time in weeks, I was offline for something like 4 hrs. And, what do I see when I come back? My Twitter timeline explode with comments on the The Hindu and one blogpost repeatedly retweeted on the Indian Express and its pro-establishment leanings. It felt like one fine day, the skies had opened up to rain fire on our mainstream media. Not that our newspapers haven’t already experienced this credibility crisis but these two happenings make us question the whole journalism business. Now…where do I start?

Earlier in the day, I was pointed to a letter by N. Ravi, Editor, The Hindu to all employees of the organization. In this hard-hitting letter, Ravi accuses N.  Ram, Editor-in-chief of not keeping up his word to retire in May 2010, and conspiring with some members of the Governing Board to remove him from his position of Editor. All this office politics notwithstanding, some accusations levelled by Ravi against Ram are distressing! In a damning indictment of something we always suspected, Ravi accuses Ram of forcing him to publish a defensive interview of A. Raja in 2010 against the promise of a full-page colour advertisement by the Telecom Ministry. Even more distressing is the Editor himself accusing the Editor-in-chief of being overtly pro-Chinese Communist Establishment.

In the light of these accusations by Ravi, The Hindu’s publishing of “Living our Values: Code of Editorial Values” doesn’t really make a mark. Indeed, taking a moral high ground and taking of editorial values and journalistic ethics in the backdrop of a general decline of editorial standards seems incongruous. Now, whether the Editor-in-Chief actually published pro-Raja articles and news for a direct  quid pro quo is another matter. Irrespective of whether every word in Ravi’s letter is true or not, and irrespective of whether Ravi himself benefited from an actively pro-establishment stand, these revelations make one doubt the credibility of the Hindu as a newspaper. Personally, I stopped reading The Hindu because of it’s increasingly pro-left leanings and in the light of these allegations, I really wonder how much credibility this newspaper, once the gold standard in Indian journalism, really has left.

On that note, I also came across this brilliant blogpost at Churumuri, on whether “anti-establishment” which was originally IE’s calling card has now changed beyond recognition. The analysis of whether the newspaper that chose to fight the establishment through Emergency and later, has actually changed its stripes to become pro-establishment. Do read it.

The timing is so perfect that it triggers off a range of thought about what credibility is really left for the Indian media. As I tweeted earlier in the day, The Hindu has just outed itself thanks to infighting. The Indian Express seems to be inexorably moving from being an objective and fearless newspaper to being an apologist of the powers that be. The Times of India lost its credibility the day it started degenerating from a mainline newspaper to a tabloid in broadsheet format. Hindustan Times, as I pointed out a few years back, is more interested in telling us that Michael Douglas uses Viagra than to give us any real news. What does that, as readers, leave us with? Small wonder then that we “pseudonymous bloggers” sitting in darkened rooms in our ivory towers actually prefer Twitter to newspapers as our primary source for news.

What now, of the mainstream media? Who is going to step in to fill the void that our mainstream media has created in being the watchdogs of our polity? Can we really expect these newspapers, who seem more interested in currying favour and making money, to perform the duty that is expected of them as Fourth Estate? Or will social media eventually take over that role? I have no answers at the moment. Only questions.

Living our Values: Code of Editorial Values

Cooking…

Ever tried cooking when you’re in the worst possible mood, battling the worst possible mood swings? There is something about the act that makes it therapeutic. Of course, all this applies if you like cooking. If you’re someone who hates the thought of stepping into the kitchen, this will probably seem insane to you. But, if you’re like me, cooking takes on a whole new meaning. People cook for many reasons. Some cook just to make something edible enough to fill their stomach, others to experiment with new tastes and flavours, yet others because they enjoy feeding others. For me, cooking falls into all three categories depending on my mood. The idea of transforming some altogether inedible vegetables into something amazingly delicious is so appealing that I don’t mind trying at the risk of going terribly wrong.

I like to cook because it gives me something to do when I am in a bad mood. I can chop, marinate, temper, simmer and garnish, without worrying about the umpteen things that this crazy mind of mine is filled with. As someone told me yesterday, my mind is so full of things: worries, thoughts, feelings, confusion…name it, and it’s there. Cooking gives me something to do with myself. And my mind. This is perhaps why I am partial to the older and less fuel-efficient way of slow cooking. Given a choice between the microwave and a coal-stove, I would use the coal stove. I have never understood why people prefer to bake their vegetables in the microwave before making a perfectly Indian curry; or steam them before putting it in tamarind juice for making sambar.

Call me old-fashioned, but there is something special about potato curry roasted in a mud pot, or rasam made in an eeya sombu. Sambar in a kalchetti tastes better than sambar in a non-stick handi. Channa sabzi cooked over a slow flame and simmered until thick tastes much better than channa sabzi microwaved to perfection by designer chefs. Pardon me for being the puritan, but filter coffee just doesn’t taste as good made in an electric coffee maker is it does in the conventional drip-type filter.

For me, cooking is an art, as well as a passion. I take the time to let the vegetables cook in their juices and absorbs the flavours of the spices I add. Maybe, just maybe I need to master the art of microwave cooking. But for some reason, my microwave oven continues to be a mere embellishment to my already gadget-filled kitchen.  I promise to myself that someday, I will learn to make proper use of it…and use it the way it is meant to be!

India…

Over the last two days, I have been meeting people from other countries, many of whom have only heard of India over television, but never visited. Some others have distant memories of this country and find that the country that is, is no longer the country they remember. India has changed; irrevocably, and in ways that were completely unimaginable 10 years ago.

Personally, I find that I have ambiguous feelings towards the whole issue. A part of me presents the new India with a pride, a pride in having come this far, a pride in having the capacity to match some of the best in the world. Another part feels ashamed of the traffic, the indiscipline and the sheer chaos that characterizes much of India. Yet another part yearns for some unknown, lost innocence that seemed a part of my childhood, that I don’t find any longer in the children of today.

I am trying to put these conflicting feelings in words as I experience this inner struggle between pride, shame, embarrassment and nostalgia. On the positive side, I feel truly proud that people who came into India 20 years ago, find it unrecognizable today. Better roads, better cars, greater material comforts and impressive buildings, all speaking success stories that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. I feel happy that there is nothing that is not available in India. I feel proud of what we have managed to achieve since the pre-liberalization era of the 1980s.

I also feel embarrassed that despite our obvious economic progress, we remain indisciplined. We have no idea how to use our roads, how to respect the traffic lights or how to follow traffic rules. I feel ashamed that while we publicly applaud Anna Hazare’s efforts at eliminating corruption in the public sphere, we do not think twice about offering a cop a hundred-rupee bribe to let us go for jumping the red. I also feel ashamed that our sex ratio is a pathetic 914:1000, while we continue to wax eloquent about the Indian tradition of worshipping the Mother Goddess.

I sometimes wonder if my western education and the short time spent in France have made me an incorrigible cynic. But, I would be happier seeing my country develop not just in economic terms but also in human terms. I would like to see some concrete action against the most damaging social ills like corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency. I would like to see social development getting as much focus as economic success, at the risk of sounding like a card-carrying member of the Communist Party! I also hope to see the freedom of speech and expression being defended as passionately as it is today, even if that freedom is inconvenient to me. I hope to see more people believe that the most important thing about a democracy is the freedom to debate, discuss and disagree on the most critical issues facing our nation today.

And I hope my hopes and dreams materialize in my lifetime. I hope that one day I will leave India, and also hope that one day my India will make me regret my decision to leave it. I hope to see my country win that many more World Cups, but also hope that cricket doesn’t become the only binding force in this country of 1.23 billion. Only time will tell if my hopes and dreams will be realized.And I hope that day comes soon enough!