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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Memories like onions

When I opened this blank page I intended to write something quite different. I had bounced between windows and chased hyperlinks trying to wrap my head around the issues of the day. Battling patriarchy and the right to take offense, corruption in politics and everyday life, parochialism in national awards, our dismal rating on the human development indicators, and so much else. How does one make sense of anything? Easier, so much easier, to burrow inside a chosen fictional world and take flight with one (not-too-intense) fantasy or another.

But again, that's not what I am writing about. I wanted to wonder, instead, about the layered nature of our moments. For instance. I sit here at my laptop which sits on a large rosewood desk covered in kalamkari fabric which I know needs to be pulled off and washed; my mind is half directing my fingers on the keyboard but they seem to have a life of their own; the other half (quarter? tenth?) is taking in the constant sound of the television that is switching between the replay of the Ozzie Open and a Dakota Fanning movie and something else I can't quite catch; and whatever's left is thinking about tomorrow and what needs to be done (always, always).

So we're having dinner and watching Animal Planet and one part of me is thinking about my cousin Rajee who makes the best, crisp-est dosas and another part is remembering how Achala, age two, could name all these exotic Amazonian animals. I take a taste of mulagai podi and remember my grandmother who always added a dash of jaggery when she made it.

My mind is like that bioscope that I once read about (or heard sung about in an old Hindi movie song--dekho, dekho, dekho, baa-yi-scope dekho), flitting between images sometimes unrelated, snatches of lives gone before, lives imagined and shared in the telling...but unlike the serial flow of the bioscope frames, the pictures in my mind are stacked in a translucent heap, one swimming to the top at a time but never quite edging the others out.

So every time I chop onions I think of the good doctor in Ian McEwan's Saturday, peeling an onion in such haste that he cuts through the good bits as well, and when I happen to note the time at 9:15 p.m. I think of my friend Sarika listening to the trundling of the Mumbai Express through Begumpet station and thinking of her family in Pune...whose memories, exactly?

Would be nice, I think, to block this rush of colour and sound for a while and hold my mind calm, quiet, white, still...so that I could write my own ideas on it and maybe turn them into that story that keeps getting interrupted.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Protests, provocations and prevarications

I don't often go out late at night. And it's been years since I walked on Tank Bund, our local promenade, at any time of day or night. So last night, thanks to a couple of feisty and committed young women, I did both. Hyderabad's Midnight March, called to reinforce the demands for safer public spaces and a change in societal attitudes toward gender and gender-based violence, was by any account a huge success. There were feminists old, young, and in-between, of all genders; mothers with young children in tow and fathers with toddlers on their shoulders; people speaking, singing and shouting slogans in Hindi, Telugu and English; those who fit the misused label of middle class, and many who might not. Things were organized without being restrictively disciplined, there was space for conversation and silence, and above all, there was energy.

I ran into many old friends and caught sight of many more recent acquaintances, including a number of young people who had passed through my classes and remembered (or forgot) enough to say a warm hello.

While the demands were serious (let's break the silence, let's rethink the laws), the mood was one of hope. If so many of us, who had at one time shared a quiet and helpless anger, were out there showing ourselves, then there must be a way out of these shackles society seems to have locked itself within.

But walking there among all those people, I couldn't help myself from those treacherous moments of doubt. What happens after a midnight march? One young woman who was with me voiced her doubt aloud, asking, does a thousand-strong crowd walking along a well-lit thoroughfare equal a reclamation of the night? When we yell "down down" with something, do we understand the entirety of what we are fighting or are we only tilting at the windmills we see? When we scream for justice, do we all agree on what justice is and how it should be done? What we want is the opposite of a violent solution, and somehow, the stridency of our shouts taints that very desire. Another young woman asked me what I thought of the whole thing. I'm not sure, I said. All I know is that this can't be enough; that this must lead to something more.

Of course, all of this does not in at all take away from the need for such visible representations of societal angst. It reminds us that in the middle of all the ugliness there is still so much will to act, so much capacity to push for change.

Already, the volume and intensity of conversation around rape, sexuality, and gender-based violence has increased. Silences are being broken and people at least in some quarters are paying more attention. While some may dismiss it all as middle class posturing or a temporary (youth-led) fervour, some of it will most definitely stick.

So, did it make a difference that I went? Perhaps not. But it does make a difference that we all went.

And as we walked back to our car at 1:30 a.m., on a dark and lonely street where it was the only vehicle left, my young friend noted, "Well, we have reclaimed the night, after all."