Friday, March 25, 2011

The view from my balcony

This is something I do fairly often, but this morning I just stopped to enjoy the moment a little longer, and I realized that it made all the difference. Almost every morning, I open the wire mesh door to our little balcony and look down at the greenery and think to myself (apologies to Mr Armstrong) it's a wonderful world....well yes, there is the devastation in Japan, the people's struggles that turn violent in the face of oppressive state mechanisms, hunger and deprivation, repressive dictatorships in North Korea, Libya and smaller pockets around the globe....but still there is my tiny patch of a garden, with its blooming lilies and alamander, the hardy bougainvillea, the hibiscus that strains toward the sun from under the branching mango tree, and the beautiful bilwa (Bael) that stands by the front gate. And how could I forget the double jasmine, its plump, thickly packed petals holding in their scent until just the right moment touches them open, and then they can't stop perfuming the air until they are completely spent, brown and droopy against the dark green leaves.

It's just a small patch of garden, rocky for the most part, and rather sandy and unfertile. My mother tries to coax it into fecundity with persuasive additions of topsoil and compost, and loving sprays of water. But for the most part, it doesn't respond. When it does, however, it makes us sit up and take note. Suddenly, it seems like there are flowers to look at and smell, enough for my mother in law's puja and enough to put into a bowl and drink in the scent for a day or two. Straight down, the branches of the temple tree, almost bare of leaves but starkly beautiful with its smooth branches holding out flowers, their pink tinged petals holding a warm yellow centre. A little to the right is one of the three tall coconut palms, reaching up to the sky in an ever more hopeful bid to touch a cloud. Behind me is the faithful mango, which turns out a good crop year after year. Right now it is the hot and sour "manga thalar", raw mango cut into small pieces and seasoned liberally with mustard seeds and hing and chili powder and salt. And further to my left is the guava, which we had almost given up for lacking the ability to generate or grow good fruit. In between is the extravagant Ixora, its orange-red inflorescence demanding your attention. I'm keenly aware that in a city such as the one I live in, a garden of any kind is a luxury, despite the many hoardings advertising new homes in "sylvan" surroundings. So this morning I took an extra moment to soak in the little greenery I am privileged to look down on every time I go out on to the balcony.

As I go back inside and let the door swing shut behind me, I think yes, I can do this. I can face another day of  rude car drivers and badly planned roads, buses that overtake from the wrong side and motorcyclists who weave trouble into the traffic. Part of my energy shot each day comes from this view of the garden.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bread and roses, a hundred years on...

There was a time when I was called upon to write a story about International Women's Day for the local feature supplement, and each year (I think it was three or four years in a row) I had to search my mind to see if there were new issues to write about. Balancing different roles, women and security, support groups, perceptions and stereotypes, etc. etc....I can see your eyes glaze over as you think, "same old, same old". That's true. But then, think about it, in 100 years, the issues are no different. Equal wages for equal work. The right to self-determination. The right to personhood on equal terms. The right to property. The right to not be treated as an object or possession. The same list. Year after year.

So this year I found myself wondering, are the speakers this year going to say anything different>

The newspaper stories are the same. What's different is that people now think it is a day to "celebrate" and not "agitate". So there are flowers for the women in the office, and phone calls and SMSs being passed around. But when we allow people (media) to turn this day of reflecting upon issues into a Hallmark event that allows us to parade beauties (pretty things) on our feature supplements in celebration of womanhood, are we not allowing the day to be subverted, and overtaken by the market, instead of retaining its essentially provocative and agitational purpose?

I'm not sure how or what to think about this. Although how and what I think about women's "issues" in general and gender-based (or anything-based) discrimination remains the same. Of course, within all the hype, there are occasions for true debate and unhurried, deep discussion, and the opportunity to introduce a new generation of thinking young women to the complexities of the issues that continue to be important and that continue to require urgent action and continued commitment. For instance, at a film screening this evening, women young, middle aged and old, and a few men, discussed the institution of marriage and what it means in these changing times. On television, a talk show host parleyed with a cross section of society about the need to reform the rape laws. So there are spaces for such conversation, and avenues for change.

To recap, a few of those earlier articles that have a gender dimension can be found here here, and here