Chennai, Christmas and 2015

 

My feet take me along the roadway

As I gaze at the endless festivities

Shops bursting with streamers,

Inflatable Santa Clauses, stars and

Illuminated Christmas decorations;

My heart is somewhere else;

Locked perhaps in the agony

Of those who lost their homes

And loved ones.

 

The air is unnaturally cold

bereft of the gentle warmth

of the annual Christmas carols.

The plastic tree is locked away in a suitcase,

Never to be assembled until the next year.

The old decorations gather dust,

The star hidden away inside a cabinet.

One is too tired to look for them

When Christmas is just not prefixed

with the customary ‘Merry’.

 

Try as one may

To bite back one’s sorrow

and mouth a ‘Merry Christmas’.

But can mirrors lie?

Every face becomes a mirror,

Reflecting each other’s sadness

Infinitesimally.

 

Its beautiful that our rebirth

Had to coincide with His birth.

He who is powerful enough

To pull down the princes from their Thrones,

Reduced the opulence of the corrupt

To shambles.

The Son of God became Son of Man

As the Daughters and Sons of the Soil

Became divine in the eyes of the afflicted.

 

If the rains have left behind

A fragment of your joyous soul,

I wish you a ‘Happy Christmas’

From what remains of mine.

 

This is  what Christmas feels like this year. By far, it has been one of the most meaningful yuletide season of my lifetime. With hardly any celebrations around and our churches instructing us to abstain from going on carol rounds or partaking in any kind of austerity, we join in solidarity the many residents of our beloved city who have lost their lives and possessions in the floods. I wish all of you a Happy and Meaningful Christmas 2015. I pray that the new year heralds a dawn of teamwork, co-operation and removal of all biases as an extension of the #ChennaiRains lessons we all have learnt.

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Part time Domestic Goddess

domestic goddess

For decades, women have been combating the ‘Angel of the House’ label. What exactly makes a woman an angel of the house? An oft quoted Malayalam proverb that has been thrown in my direction is loosely translated as “A woman is the lamp of her house.” Why exactly is she confined to the house?

Another proverb that is frequently used is “The hand that rocks the cradle is the one that runs the nation.” Now the stamp of motherhood has been affixed on womanhood. Take another one for example “Behind every successful man is a woman.”. The position of women as indicated by these proverbs is behind the veil of domesticity, motherhood and manhood. The glorified women across all literature and culture is she that has conformed to patriarchal roles such as marriage and motherhood. Any woman who has questioned the above or taken up a positions other than those solicited by patriarchy have been called ‘sirens’ or become token women. Take a look at Shakespearean heroines, haven’t they literally had to cross dress as men if they were to defy patriarchy?

The progressive career woman of today has some patriarchal odds to battle. When asked about how she maintains the work-life balance, Sheryl Sandberg has said that life and work were two categories that could never be balanced. And who dictates the life that a woman must live? The answer is clear: the nameless, faceless entity called ‘society’. The woman of today somehow seems to have to make peace with patriarchy in order to justify her breaking free. Bump into any career woman today and ask her who does the cooking. There aren’t too  many instances in which the husband makes the career sacrifice to provide for the family. Why is it so?The number of Betty Drapers in our world are too many. If they sacrifice their career, they miss their job. If they pursue a career, they miss the child; such is the paradox of a career woman’s life.

If we take a closer look at what goes into the making of a ‘woman’ (even now), the ingredients are dismal. I happened to be in a group of ‘elders’ who were discussing the clearing of a marriage alliance. The oldest of the lot was a sober individual whose frustration crept through his features. He was accompanied by several others of his age. The discussion began and I registered the facts of it. “Oh, she is a very good girl.” he began “She doesn’t talk much and is very obedient. I think he has the perfect match.” Mind you, this is very very real.  I needn’t explain the statement at all. The process of grilling a disinterested young girl with hours of kitchen and house maintenance chores goes into making a ‘woman’. In that case, what happens to those of us who disdain being a ‘woman’? What about those who don’t care a dime about kitchen work or servicing the needs of a man?

 These are uncomfortable questions that have no answer. Isn’t it time the answers came?

City Under Water: A #ChennaiRains Story

 

They say it has been the heaviest rain since the last 100 years.

“Rains? In Chennai? Thought that place was supposed to be bone dry!!”

If the above was your reaction, be comforted for it was the same as most Chennaiites’s. An apt metaphor that describes the current situation of the cultural metro is that of The Titanic. Even the engineer believed it unsinkable but the inevitable happened. Nevertheless, the James Cameron movie idolized the love of Jack and Rose. This is Chennai, literally sinking but unsinkable.

The joyride ended when our schools and colleges remained stubbornly shut a week after they were supposed to open. The rain which was viewed as a blessing soon became a curse. Holidays that were normally met with much fanfare collapsed into boredom and panic. Open the day’s newspaper and you could see pictures of inundated settlements at Tambaram and Velachery along with a host of other places. It was terrifying to note the increasing number of localities going under water. When a week passed, we crossed our fingers in hope that the ordeal would have passed but it seemed rather like the end of a beginning: and a terrifying beginning at that. Deepawali, the festival of lights was probably the last time in weeks that we would see some light and hear some joyful noise. Ravana and his maniacal forces of darkness laughed thunderously and vanquished the skies, relentlessly releasing oceans of water upon a rugged landscape.

cars submerged

Every panic ridden WhatsApp message had in store disturbing images of luxurious cars completely submerged underwater. People who formerly owned well built houses and apartments now had to be hauled out of their homes before the latter became a watery grave. Alarmed survivors sitting in rescue boats frantically captured videos of what remained or their belongings. The drone of the motorboat engine served as the backdrop of each of these videos as the rescue team deftly navigated the boat through flotillas of garbage and what appeared to be a section of the windshield and roof of several cars. (Corpses of people would join them in the week to come)

WhatsApp users poked fun liberally at Ola, one of Chennai’s leading app-powered cab network, creating memes that the group was introducing boats on call. We had to bite back our laughter when the following day’s newspaper revealed that Ola turned the meme into reality. Pictures of Ola volunteers wading through the water tugging behind them bright blue boats with anxious survivors went viral.

ola meme

Following this, the fishermen of Chennai lent their boats to help speed up the rescue mission. Social Networking sites were abuzz with details of requirements and availability of food and material. Truly, this was the time the entire world stood with Chennai. The youth of Chennai along with several other groups jumped into action to dredge the city from its impending death. Our neighborhood hero was Mrs MG Nair , an octogenarian who allowed the residents of her locality to wash their clothes in her generator powered washing machine when the city was enveloped in darkness.   When cellphone connectivity met an end, it was the much criticized PSU ‘BSNL’ that provided quality landline  telephone services.

We too were holed up in our house for a brief while until we were able to limp and still continue limping towards normalcy.

If 127 hours saw a Pyrrhic victory for Aron Ralston, it was a relatively less terrifying 48 hours for us. We could hear the sound of the rain practically enveloping our consciousness. The road now became a container for the incessant shower of rainwater. We imagined that the horror would stop but panic rose with the amount of frantic phone calls pouring in. Just when we thought the worst was over, reports circulated that a news channel predicted the onslaught of twin cyclones on a hapless Chennai. Fear levels escalated  in our minds like the water  levels outside our apartment premises. What would we wake up to the next day? We decided to present our case to the Almighty knowing well that He would listen to us and NOT LET US DOWN.

The bulk of our prayers in the previous week were for the residents of Velachery and Tambaram. There were times when we broke down and thought of their plight. This time, we shared in their agony. We prayed that the rains stop. We pleaded with the Almighty to spare Chennai. There was an undeniable feeling of foreboding within us as we prayed. Taking a peek outside the window we noticed that our neighbors’ independent house looked like a marooned island with random articles floating in the water.  That afternoon we noticed the dog of one of the house-owners living a long way across the street wandering in the above plot.

The following morning was one of great surprise for all of us. On a positive note: the rains stopped and the flipside was that the water levels increased consistently. The water outside our gate was hip-level of a 5ft 8 inches  tall person ; it threatened to enter the car park and most importantly, the apartments on the ground floor. The frequent vehicular activity on the road displaced large quantities of water inside the apartment premises thereby increasing the level of water in the car park. Although the silencers were secured with layers of thick plastic packets, there was a risk of exposing the engine to the rising water level. That being done, quick trips were made to the grocery stores to salvage supplies for the next few days’ survival. Streets were flooded and the nearby Cooum river overflowed, upsetting the lives of several people. Most shops refused to open for lack of staff. A passing milkman whose vehicle spluttered to death was stopped on the way and forced to hand the people some milk for the price they paid. A few shopkeepers stood in the water and hurriedly disposed whatever remained of their stocks to the people.

Plastic packets containing garbage emerged from the toppled trash cans of the neighboring apartment. They readily swam across the  road and entered the homes of people. Some of the dirty flood water entered bore wells, mixing with the sole source of water for our pipelines.

Cars cranked up their engines to produce a sound similar to the droning of the motorboats. Some drivers pulled through the watery mess with utmost patience taking care not to upset the pedestrians whereas a few drove rashly enough to push down anxious individuals who were rushing home with supplies for the pantry. Most of us were reduced to mere onlookers as the knee-level water rose to waist-level. There were some who chose to look at the event in a rather different perspective. In an hour’s time, the droning and subsequent splashing of water was replaced by sounds of laughter and revelry. Men both young and old rolled up their trousers and dhotis to wade through the water for mere entertainment. Some boys jumped into the water, thrilled by the feel of the whole atmosphere. To our disgust, a few unknowingly rinsed their mouths with the dirty roadwater and spat out the yellow liquid. Chappals were used as volleyballs and selfies taken relentlessly against the pouring rain. The occasional buses filled with innumerable people swerved dangerously to evade the revelers.

Red Cross vans and several cars made their way through the rising water level to ferry their occupants to safety. In the midst of all this, an expensive car was trapped in the middle of the road. The owner abandoned the car for the rest of the day and returned later to remove the car a few days on.  It seems that the inbuilt lock system was water sensitive and hence retarded any movement.

The water levels in the locality refused to recede despite the absence of rain. The slum dwellers of the neighborhood hoisted their little children on their shoulders as water levels quickly went overhead. Planning the course of action expertly, they split themselves into groups and headed to work. When one group diverted the flow of vehicles to an arterial road, the larger group of 200 odd families advanced to an obstructive wall, armed with large axes potent to break boulders. As the wall was dashed to bits, the stagnant water drained itself  into the local branch of the Cooum. Policemen arrived at the scene shortly to preside over the rest of the happenings.

That evening, electricity came and partial telephone connectivity was restored. Calls poured in as we welcomed the flow of warmth and concern from everyone. Now that we were in a position of safety, our concern was for those in danger.

Facebook’s ‘Safety Check’ feature helped a great deal in allaying our fears of our friends’ safety. Despite cases of minimal damage like ours the ordeal still continues today. Velachery is known to be a locality that experiences a standstill even on account of light showers. The plight of several unrescued North Chennaiites who had to embark on a long and dangerous walk towards safety continues to singe one’s conscience. Neighbourhoods like Mudichur, Saidapet, Tambaram, KK Nagar, Guindy and Ashok Nagar among many others continue to suffer problems of waterlogging and lack of essential commodities. Capitalists exploit the situation by hiking the prices of commodities while some others sell a few of them in the black market. While there are heartwarming instances of Army helicopters rescuing pregnant women from waterlogged areas, cases of thuggery disrupt relief measures.

If Chennai survives (I am sure she will) it will be an incredible story to tell. I take this moment to salute all of them who have taken part in the relief activities for Chennai be it getting on field and distributing resources or even sharing important information on social media to aid the operations. We are sure that every prayer on our behalf has counted.

This post would be incomplete without the wondrous words of Deepan Ramachandran, former Creative Director of Ogilvy&Mather (Chennai) and the founder of ‘Mind Your Language Creative Services’ that has Kollywood actor Kamal Hassan’s first commercial outing (Pothy’s) to its credit.

“It’s raining in Chennai.
And it’s not just the skies that have opened up…
Many homes are letting in water, but quite a few are letting in guests.
The First floors are embracing the Ground floors.
Malls are welcoming footfalls, and that too without wallets.
Movie halls are counting box office numbers differently.
Hotels are giving out foods that aren’t leftovers for a change.
Marriage halls are solemnizing more marriages of souls than ever before.
Social Walls are tearing down their Civil counterparts.
140 characters are travelling faster than a ‘108’.
Taxi services are plying boats, MTC buses are plying like taxis.
Religious differences are being doused in a relentless downpour.
Politicians are knee deep in water and politics has sunk.
But Leaders are being born at every waterlogged junction.
Soldiers are being born at every dangerous turn.
And humans are being born at every deserving instance.
It’s raining in Chennai.
And it’s not just the skies that have opened up.”

 

chennai logic 2

On why we need ‘International Men’s Day’

19th November would have been any other day until I came to know that it was International Men’s Day. My initial reaction was “What? Why do Men even need to have a special day like this? Don’t they get to enjoy all the privileges of patriarchy?”. An old print ad for the Scooty Babelicious bike came to my mind when my brain slowly processed this information. The body copy was something along the lines of “Why have Women’s Day when girls get to have fun all the year. Happy Men’s Day!”. The image was one of two girls booing at the surprised looking metrosexual male.

I sat down to think of why we need a day like this. In a bid to look up a good picture to accompany a short, instant ‘Men’s Day’ verse I had composed, I simply googled ‘men’ in honest expectation that I would come across pictures of men at work, hanging out with their pals, playing with their kids and maybe cooking something for themselves. I was aghast to see that pictures of topless, underwear clad men popped up in the search results. It was sad to see how the definition of a man had to narrow itself down to a scantily clad, six pack armored, larger than life sized image. It occurred to me that men too could be objectified.

Being one to notice how women are portrayed in media, I took a few minutes to ponder how male characters were depicted in media. Take any successful, well made male character, he’s essentially well built, slim, flamboyant, sexy and ‘drop-dead’ gorgeous. I imagine that this could be highly misleading to adolescent males and several young boys who are in the rush to find a role model to look up to. Right from Christian Grey to James Bond, these ‘role models’ have a larger than life sized personality and demeanor. I concluded that it was and is indeed an arduous task for boys to find credible, practical role models as much as it is for girls.

Men go through abuse too. We cannot assume that they don’t simply because many stories do not come to the forefront. Patriarchy is such a villain that pits one sex against another and often a person against his own sexual identity. As much as women have a hard time untangling the maze of submission that the society imposes on them, I bet some men too are baffled by why they must dominate and who gives them the authority to do so. I assume that they go through their share of identity crisis.

We need to recognize our men for who they are. Feminism is not anti-male although a few ‘men’s rights groups’ like to paint it that way! Our men fight cumbersome gender stereotypes and roles. If they deviate from the social norms, they draw unnecessary flak. On this year’s ‘International Men’s Day’ I wish and pray that men irrespective of age and status would take a stand on whatever is dear to them and be themselves fearlessly. As a salute to the contributions of all the great men of our world, I write this poem to you

“To the men who needn’t pull of their clothes
To prove their manliness.
To those who believe that gender differences
Are not a reason to discriminate.
To those who believe in standing up for one’s beliefs
Uncaring for the ‘sissy’ and ‘nincompoop’ tags.
To those who love in earnest
And spit in the faces of those who ’emasculate’ them.
To those who through their uniqueness
Push past the boundaries of the definition of masculinity.

To those of you who understand
That you needn’t always be the benefactor or caretaker.
To those who feel that
Their women deserve an equal chance.
To those who would stand up in pride
When their loved ones triumph
And press them close to your heart
When they fail.

 

Well, I also found the picture I was looking for!! I like how this one combines boyish innocence and manliness.

men's day

 

25 Years Only? You’ve got to be kidding me!

“Ma, I don’t want to marry.”
“Honey, you are growing older! Where will we find guys for you?”
“But I’m not ready for this!”
“Honey, I wasn’t ready for it when I married your father. Tell me, who on earth is ready for marriage when they enter it?”

Approaching 25? Happen to be a female member of species Homo sapiens? Do you live in India? You don’t need my confirmation that your fate is sealed by the golden age of 25!

But hold on, repeat this exchange with your father!

“Dad, why is it that girls are forced to marry at a young age?”
“Well, that’s because they lose their beauty after a point of time. Oh..and their ‘biology’ changes.”
“Its not like men are handsome forever. Look at you.”
“What are you trying to say? That I look bad (wounded male ego)?”
“Dad, I am kidding. You look fine! The thing is, guys aren’t forced as much as we women are, right? Why is this exclusive to women alone?”
“Then don’t marry!”

What a smart way to end an argument! Frankly, the Finance Controller of the house can get a lot of things off his chest by not getting his daughter married off: gold jewellery, dowry, gossip from relatives who never existed, societal status issues and whatnot! Its funny how this rumbling, authoritative man can become nothing short of a wreck when his wife asks him to buy gold for their (thirteen year old) daughter’s impending marriage.

Thankfully, the movie Queen’ was an eye opener. It was a much needed take on what life can be like if a woman is given the freedom and familial support to go ahead with life her way. I imagine that Rani would have fared poorly in such an unequal marriage. The movie depicts how marriage is merely a means to a social end. It seems more contractual and shallow this way.

Queen

Assuming that a girl has been pushed into such a contractual relationship well embellished by wealth and social prestige, what is the guarantee that there is love in it?

“Oh, we care for your happiness. That’s all!” is the answer a parent may offer. “Well, if you care for my happiness you would let me be.”
“So, you want a live-in relationship, huh?” says the now sanskari parent.
“Wait, but can I not be single a happy for a little longer?”
“Listen , you will be all alone. Who will take you to hospital when you are sick? What of you are in trouble? At one point in life, you will long for company and a husband will come in handy!”

Hold on! Just like a woman is not a kitchen appliance, a man is clearly not a handyman’s kit to be used for situational repair. Give the sexes their dignity!
A friend of mine once confessed that someone said this to her”Marry a wealthy man and you can go to America (USA)!”. She mentally replied “All I need to go to America is a passport, money and a visa.”
So, see how shallow our society has become by marketing men as well as women! Sorry humanity, you deserve better.

Its difficult to convince any member of my generation to get married. Truth be told, we see the ugly side of things everyday and wish to be proactive and cautious about every step we take in life. If we spend a considerable amount of time pondering over which University to study in, why wouldn’t we spend months or even years over choosing the right partner or choosing to be single for a lifetime? Marriage, as we see it is a lot of hard work to get into. (Ben Affleck was right!)

If relationship insiders have been talking of its complexities, why is it portrayed as a must have candyfloss element in life? Why is it viewed as a rite of passage for most women? Most importantly, why are individuals pushed into relationships that are heavy on commitment and care that they are not equipped to handle?
Wisely has Clint Eastwood said “‘They say all marriages are made in heaven, but so are thunder and lightning.”

Its sad how society victimizes women right from the beginning of their lives. Look at all the negativity hurled our way! Being born female, being too short, too tall, too large, too small, too curvy, attaining puberty too early, too late, attaining puberty at all, not finding a match, studying badly, studying too much, being unmarried, being married, getting divorced, being a single mother, dying childless..all of these are vices. And yet, we women live to face everyday for what its worth believing fully that we can make the world a better place.

A very respectable elder of my acquaintance said very recently “I really don’t know why I got married in the first place. It’s not that our marriage is a bad one at all. If not for it, I would have travelled the world and read all the books I wanted to.”

Give a woman her money, her books, her food and her freedom. She’ll blossom into a confident individual who can tackle anything. Why force her into a marriage she is not prepared to take on? Pushed into being a member of Club 25 is nothing to be proud of.