of light and of darkness

As a kid, I used to wait for Diwali all year long. We had a simple routine. Two days before Diwali, dad would bring home some firecrackers. We’d count, divide, hide. We’d spend the next two days looking for each other’s share to steal.

We’d each get a couple of packs of good old candles. My sister and I would light them one by one along the balcony wall.  We’d keep watch lest one of them get extinguished. Some years there were competitions to see whose side of the balcony looked better.

Over these two days we would also visit relatives and neighbors bearing mithai (and gifts for the close ones). We’d make rangolis outside the main gate. Ugly-ass, barely qualifying to be rangolis, but really colorful. We’d get competitive and there used to be a lot of hair-pulling and scratching and clawing, but when we were done, we’d be filled with an odd sense of pride and accomplishment. One particular year, the neighbors’ daughter made the mistake of telling us how “untidy” the rangoli was and a different kind of clawing and scratching ensued.

When we were done, we’d sit down for Laxmi Puja – the entire family. All three of us would wait patiently, eyes fixed on the plateful of sweets being offered to idols of clay – that might be when I first started questioning idol worship – but that’s a story for another day.

And then came the much awaited moment – our cousins would come over and we’d take out our stash of crackers and go downstairs. We’d come back home late at night exhausted from the nervous excitement from lighting the fireworks and carefully trying not to set ourselves on fire. Sometimes we did (despite the supervision) but mostly we were okay.

Now that I am older I have begun to dislike Diwali. Actually dislike is a not-strong-enough word, and hate is too big. So I will list all the things that Diwali means to me.

The good: I moved in with Mister on Diwali so it’s an anniversary of sorts.

The bad: I don’t have a routine anymore. All Diwali is to me today is an inflated electricity bill, a never-ending series of gift-giving to people I don’t even like anymore, being force-fed sweets, and a traumatized dog cowering under the couch (and a dozen other dogs on the street, scared equally shitless), not to mention taking 2 hours to get to an office that’s 20 min away for a whole week. It is also a night of torture for old people and asthamatics.

The ugly: There are children out on the street all night, mostly unsupervised, with fireworks hanging out of their asses. There are other children out on the street, trying to sleep because they have to get up and clean up after the rich kids in the morning. No matter how special it is for me, I can’t get over the dark side of the festival of lights.

Wasn’t the whole point of Diwali to end the darkness and bring light into people’s lives? Are we doing that? Are you doing that? Is this a happy Diwali for you? Do you think festivals have lost their essence somewhere along the way?

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of feminism and checklists

You’d remember that I wrote about an IPS officer’s friendly checklist for women who want to stay safe.

Someone left the following comment for me there, and my response was so long-winded, I thought it might just be better to write a new post.

And then there was the fact that this way you can actively engage in the conversation and tell me what you think.

Here’s what TheKomentor had to say:

Though I can sympathize with the fact that you were injured in an accident, I really don’t find anything wrong with that police list. Those are just common sense instructions that every woman can follow to have a better chance of staying safe in public places. And it isn’t like the police are shirking their responsibilities; they are just saying you can stay safe even without them if you do those things. Of course everyone of us wants the freedom to dress and behave and live our lives the way we want to, but the fact of the matter is that freedom is oftentimes just a word — we, both men and women, are living under limitations, and we are safer when we stay within those limitations. It is like saying I should have the freedom to touch fire, and then blaming others when I get burned.

Let’s talk about her perspective, point-by-point.

I really don’t find anything wrong with that police list.

Take a closer look.

Police

  1. What does he mean by ‘dress decently’? What is less provocative? A saree that leaves my midriff exposed or jeans and a t-shirt? Who is to say rapists will have exactly the same sense of fashion and modesty that I do?
  2. About being well-behaved – should I be greeting potential rapists with my hands folded? Or is he implying that women walk around “inviting” men through provocative gestures?
  3. If I can’t travel in crowded buses/trains, should I be boarding nearly empty buses/trains? Isn’t that what Nirbhaya did? I’m confused. Are you?

Those are just common sense instructions that every woman can follow to have a better chance of staying safe in public places.

Yes. I agree. I proactively do most of the things on that list. These things are not necessarily making us safe, because we do get “eve-teased” in broad daylight and in groups, but I’m with you on this one.

Most Indian women would agree that we’ve been forced to become street smart. We know, just by means of a quick glance, who is looking at us and how. We don’t go to ‘wine shops’, we don’t step out in the dark without male escorts, and we wear shrugs and leggings with dresses when we step out even if at the cost of looking like buffoons. We’re already doing all that.

But we don’t need a police officer to tell us these things. Unless, of course, they are talking to a specific woman who likes to walk around naked and dances provocatively in a crowded bus full of lusty men in the middle of the night, and then asks why she got raped. That woman, my friend, should be the poster girl for this checklist. Do you know her?

And it isn’t like the police are shirking their responsibilities; they are just saying you can stay safe even without them if you do those things.

Ummm… nope. What they are saying is: boys will be boys, and women just have to work around that.

They are making it our responsibility to stay safe. If something untoward happens, the same guy will first ask the victim where she was, what she was doing there at that time of the day/night, whom she was with, whether her family knows she hangs around with boys, etc. More questions will follow, centered around this checklist – ‘what were you wearing’ will be something that will finally make it the victim’s fault.

Of course everyone of us wants the freedom to dress and behave and live our lives the way we want to, but the fact of the matter is that freedom is oftentimes just a word — we, both men and women, are living under limitations, and we are safer when we stay within those limitations.

I disagree. Vehemently.

Just because it’s a bad world does not mean we have to live with it. Things will only get better if we take a stand, and I don’t mean just women.

We ALL have to stop saying these checklists make sense. Because they don’t make any sense because when they come from other people, they’re coming from someone who believes in victim blaming and slut shaming.

I’m not ok with that. I will do what I need to do to stay safe. I don’t need the police to tell me what I should do to not be raped. What I do need them to tell me is what they are doing to keep me safe. See what I mean?

My freedom is just a word until I believe it’s just a word.

It is like saying I should have the freedom to touch fire, and then blaming others when I get burned.

I don’t even feel like dignifying this with a response.


I know, I know, I have got to stop the sermonizing. But I can’t help it. There’s so much going on in our world these days, I can’t be an ostrich anymore. I think it’s time we stopped and thought about how little ‘friendly suggestions’ like this are adding to the gender issues we already have.

What do you think?

Please play nice. Just because you disagree with someone’s views does not mean you have to be disrespectful.

of nasty things, like sex and masturbation

I had a gynae visit this morning. I needed to get a check up, you know, down there.

Don’t get me wrong. I am capable of saying vagina without bursting into flames. Even in front of men. Let’s face it, men spend nine months struggling out to come out from and the rest of their lives struggling to get back into the vagina.

I’m saying down there because that’s what the gynae called it today. It was a little funny, coz well, she is a gynecologist and is supposed to say vagina. It’s textbook. But she chose to use the word intercourse instead of sex. As if using a clinical word will make it less raunchy. Less dirty. Continue reading of nasty things, like sex and masturbation