The freedom to choose…

Today is unique. The day will be remembered for all the wrong reasons by those who stand by freedom of choice, no matter how difficult it may be to accept. I will refrain from commenting on the Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 377 of the IPC, not because I think the courts are above criticism, but because I believe much has been said about it since morning by people more qualified to comment on it than me. But, what strikes me as representative of Indian attitudes is the constant reference to Indian culture, as if by speaking of sexuality in the public realm we somehow compromise on values.
The very fact that the judgement is today being criticized in the public sphere marks a step forward in Indian critical thought. It was not very long ago that the very mention of sex and sexuality in public was hushed up with moral indignation. The very crux of our problem with homosexuality is the reluctance to acknowledge and speak of some issues, especially sexual and gender-related in public. The Supreme Court in its judgement mentions “minuscule minorities” while referring to the LGBT community in general. And evidently, the rights of this minuscule minority are insignificant when compared to the sensibilities of the ignorant majority. For a country that prides itself on affirmative action for minorities, the LGBT community obviously does not qualify. They find little or no support from political parties who run to support minority rights for every other conceivable group. Perhaps because the community lacks the organization present in many other countries and because they do not form a vote bank?
As many commentators pointed out, the belief that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality and transgender are against Indian culture is completely false. There are umpteen examples of homosexuality in Indian mythology and still more examples of the fluidity of gender in our socio-cultural fabric. Yet, we refuse to acknowledge these very truths in our everyday life.
We like our lives to be neatly ordered and fit perfectly into slots designed by society. When someone refuses to be slotted and classified, we have a problem. We label them as unnatural and abnormal. When such labelling occurs in private, the impact is relatively limited. But, by clubbing homosexuality with issues such as bestiality, rape, incest and child abuse we do a great disservice both to those who fight for gay rights and to those who deal with violent sexual crimes. Even in public discourse we fail to distinguish between what goes on within closed doors between consenting adults and unpardonable violence against men, women and children against their will and without their consent.
Unless we learn to speak of issues as sensitive as gay rights and sexual violence with a modicum of common sense, we are doomed to find extreme and contradictory views in public discourse. As long as our public debates remain superficial and limited in world view, we are doomed to live in a society that is both hypocritical and ignorant.

The IT industry and the Indian family

If you watched Sun TV news earlier today you would have seen a special report on the decline of the Indian family. Now, I don’t really expect BBC level analysis from the likes of Sun TV, but I would definitely expect some sort of perspective to a phenomenon that is both complex and difficult to understand. The report claimed that there is an increase in divorce rates, especially among couples working in the IT industry.
We are all used to IT being reviled and blamed for all things from the devaluation of the Indian rupee to the breakdown of moral values ever since the boom of the late 90s. But, you would expect that journalists, visual media and analysts would bring in some perspective on this 15 years on. But, apparently not.
The report squarely places the blame for the increase in divorce rates and the breakdown of marriages on IT due to the long working hours, the commute from home to work and back and the lack of time for each other. This is not entirely untrue, I admit. However, the problem with such reports is that most of them tend to confuse correlation with causality. To say that divorce rates are increasing among couples working the in the IT industry is different from saying that IT causes divorce.
It is important at this point to understand other factors that have influenced this trend. A change in mindset is one of the most important factors. Divorce is no longer taboo. Even otherwise conservative parents are now willing to back their children in the decision to end a bad marriage. And, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Also, the newly-acquired financial independence (especially for women) gives them the courage to take difficult decisions.
Blaming IT without taking into consideration all the other societal factors at play is both juvenile and simplistic. The IT industry has changed the way we look at money and career. This change is here to stay. We need to stop making IT the villain of the piece if we need to really understand and tackle the changes wrought within the Indian family.

On Day 7…

…it gets more difficult than ever to find something to blog about every day. I have very often let my thoughts flow through words as I type or write, but when it comes to actually publishing on the blog, I suddenly seem to become a lot more cautious.
In other news, I watched Kalyaana Samayal Saadham today. A breezy entertainer that tackles a serious issue in the most light-hearted manner possible, it touched my heart. Admittedly, it’s not the best movie ever made, but there was something about it that made me relate to it. The setting, the upper middle class Tambrahm society to which we belong, Meera’s rebellious streak…I loved them all. Perhaps I’ll come up with a full-fledged review a bit later.
That’s all for today. See you tomorrow, hopefully with more things to talk about.

The art of sari-draping…

I am strongly convinced that the art of sari-draping is dying a slow death. Why else would someone be willing to pay 6000 rupees to a random stranger to teach them to drape a sari perfectly. In case you are wondering what I am going on about, you should probably read this article from Wall Street Journal.

The story talks of Kalpana Shah, a freelance sari-draper who offers “basic and advanced sari draping courses” for a fee in Mumbai. On top of that she gets invited to conduct group sessions on sari-draping. Wait a second! I am missing something here. Someone actually makes a living from this kind of thing? And others pay for it? Now, that’s a lovely business idea, ain’t it? Maybe I should consider this an alternative career. Now, sari-draping is one thing I do reasonably well. And, so many women seem to think it’s an art that I should perhaps make use of the opportunity. Making hay and all that you see…

However, I can’t help but lament the fact that the sari is slowly becoming a garment to be worn only for wedding and special occasions. Not that I am a prolific sari-wearer, but the day I do end up in a sari to work, people look at me rather strangely. Just yesterday, I was dressed in a sari and was accosted almost the second I entered office by an enthusiastic soul who asked me almost accusingly, “So Amrutha, what’s special? Sari and all…” I was so taken aback by the tone of the question that I just stammered that there was nothing special.

I find the slow disappearance of the sari quite unfortunate. After all, a well-worn sari actually makes a woman look lovely. There is something about the sari that lends elegance and beauty to the woman in question. And, it doesn’t necessarily have to take hours to drape. I truly appreciate women who take the effort to wear saris regularly despite the obvious conveniences of kurtas and jeans. I only wish I could be more regular in wearing saris to work and elsewhere.

Maybe this should be a new year resolution: Wear the saris in my wardrobe at least once a year! What say? 😉

Of readymade foods and cut vegetables

The other day S brought back a packet of chopped yam from a vegetable store on OMR. It was evenly chopped, neatly packaged and attractively priced, criteria that render it attractive to the average working woman who can do without the drudgery of vegetable-cutting.
That day I didn’t think much of it. In fact, I thought it was a great business idea, especially because of the location of the shop inside a major IT park. But this morning I discovered the pamphlet lying around on the sofa and wondered if I was missing an important point.
The pamphlet in question said that over 40% of a vegetable is skin, seeds, stem and other inedible parts. In other words, buying a whole vegetable is less economical that buying chopped ones. How true is this claim really? Didn’t we learn sometime in school that most of the nutrients in a vegetable are derived from the skin and stem, those we consider inedible most of the time? While saying something like this may make sense to a trader, why are we not more discerning as consumers? Are we, like always, confusing the convenient option with the healthy one?
Are cut and cleaned vegetables actually healthier than buying whole vegetables and chopping them up ourselves? How do we know that the shopkeeper has not cut away a rotten part and left the not-yet-rotten-but-stale part for us to eat?
Also, several vegetables can be eaten with the skin including potatoes, carrots and beetroot. The skin of some other vegetables like chow chow and ridge gourd, the seeds of the pumpkin and the rind of lemons can be used in a wide variety of dishes.
Are we missing out on an opportunity to not only eat healthy but also cook interesting variations in our quest for convenience? Maybe.
With these questions in mind, I quietly resolved to buy whole, fresh vegetables to the extent possible. Although I hate chopping vegetables and try to delegate the work as much as possible to the others at home, I would still like to know what kind of vegetables I actually consume.

Dark is beautiful…

When I first received an invitation to like the page Dark is Beautiful from a Facebook friend, I didn’t think much of it. I ignored it as just another spam message. But, something led me check it out one day when randomly surfing the net. Perhaps it’s the involvement of celebrities like Nandita Das or perhaps the manner in which the message was conveyed. The campaign instantly appealed to me.
I have for many years now tried to avoid using any products that promise to make me fairer, sometimes illogically shunning even sunscreen just because of the message it conveys. But, the campaign for non-discrimination on the basis of skin colour hits a raw nerve. It is not very long ago that I was considered dark. Growing up, relatives often commented that with this skin time I would never find a suitable boy. A cousin once put her hand against mine and said, “See? Your skin is black. Mine is white. It basically just means you’re not scrubbing hard enough when you bathe. Scrub nicely and you will also become white and pretty like me.” For a 12-year old me, this statement was heartbreaking. The cousin in question was six years older and considered very pretty by my extended family. From then, the concept of fair is beautiful stuck on, much like the grease from a badly-baked cake, that refuses to wash no matter how hard you try.
It took me nearly a decade to get over my complex of being dark-skinned. A decade of feeling inferior and trying to tide over that complex by doing things that my fair-skinned cousins would have never dreamt of doing. A decade of trying to be the best in what I did in an effort to prove that my dark skin was not a handicap.
Nearly twenty years after that incident, I realize that I am worth much more than the colour of my skin. I realize that dark is not ugly and will never be. I realize I was perhaps foolish in trying to overcome what was never a handicap in the first place. But, the memories linger. Today, when I tell people that dark is beautiful, that being dark is nothing to be ashamed of, I am often greeted with the retort, “It’s easy for you to say because you are not dark.” No, I am not dark. I realize that now. But, there was a time, over a decade of my relatively short life, when I spent hours in front of the mirror agonizing about the pigmentation on my neck and the blemishes on my face.
It has not been easy for me to say this aloud. I do understand how people feel when they are called dark and ugly. But, it’s time we stop obsessing about fair skin. It is time we stop linking success and beauty to complexion. It is also time we stop relying of chemical cocktails that promise to make us fairer and lovelier. Fair is not always lovely. And dark is indeed very beautiful.

More pointlessness…

I continue my endeavour to blog once a day. Since I have nothing better to say at the moment, why not take the opportunity to rant a bit?
I hate those repeated requests to play this game and that on Facebook. I mean, people need to take the hint when I ignore it once, right? But no. They will keep bombarding me with those zillion requests to play Candy Crush and Hidden Express. Ladies and Gentlemen, if I had the time to play stupid games on FB, wouldn’t I make better use of it by blogging more frequently?
On a more serious note, I find this constant eulogising of Narendra Modi on FB a bit tiring. Look, I get it. I understand you are enamoured by him and think he is the next best thing after sliced bread. But, that doesn’t mean you clog my timeline by constantly talking of what he did. Also, I find those forwarded messages on Sonia Gandhi’s antecedents in very bad taste. You are free to disagree with someone’s policies or politics, but that doesn’t give you the right to question her character or malign her personal life. And yet, this is what more right-wing political analysts do. Perhaps now it is time for me to break my self-imposed silence on Indian politics and do a bit of analysis myself.
Talking of bad taste, that new Park Avenue ad takes the cake. The man in question basically acts like a jerk and that’s supposed to be cool? What was the ad agency thinking?
So, that’s end of rant for today. More forced than voluntary because I am blogging from mobile due to a non-functional WiFi connection. So, ciao! See y’all tomorrow!