The little girl who raised hell and plants, too

This is a story of a 7-year-old girl who inspired me to get closer to nature. It is also my entry to the “Nature’s friends” blogging contest on Indiblogger. Oh, do visit or take your kids to Kissanpur at http://www.kissan.in/; they seem to be doing some interesting, fun stuff there.

She was a brat, a headache, a pain in my neck. She actively spent her entire day raising hell. At nights she was quieter, perhaps to hear better the sound of her inner devil plot new ways to unleash chaos as soon as it was light. There was never a moment of peace with her around.

Pinku was a cousin. She was rude, I was tired of her rudeness. She was on a vacation, I was on a sabbatical and totally clueless about what to do with my career.

She was seven; I was three times her age.

We were both at my grandparents’ home in a remote village of Bihar. The house had space, none of the frightening pace of the city I had left behind; and the soothing presence of the gentlest ever set of grandparents. The setting was perfect for relaxation but for the presence of the pint-sized hell-raiser.

We couldn’t get along perhaps because of the age gap, but also because she was a complete stranger to the notion that it was alright to not to have every wish of her fulfilled.

I particularly didn’t like her lack of tidiness. She always looked grimy, and it appeared she was fond of chocolates— some of it often seemed to land on her face. The muddy marks all over the floor of the house could only be the imprint of her impossibly tiny shoes. I often scolded her for her carelessness. I complained to others, too. But she remained defiant.

My patience with her ran out at last the day she decided to drown my Walkman in water. It was a mistake and she apologised, but it made me upset. I decided to step away from the scene of her act of transgression. I went upstairs and slept earlier than usual that night.

I woke up earlier than usual, too. Rubbing sleep off my eyes, I got out of my bed, wore my jacket, stepped out of my room into the balcony, ready to launch my regular train of thoughts that began with optimism around trying to resume work and ended invariably at the more depressing staying-at-home-forever idea.

It was then that I saw her in the garden on the ground floor. I couldn’t see her face from such a height, but I could see a bit of her pink t-shirt and yellow shorts she had been wearing the previous day. The girl was in the garden, squatting right next to a potted plant, watering it.

Standing next to her was my grandfather, telling her something I couldn’t quite hear. I was surprised to see her up so early, but even more at the level of noise coming from her—none. She was quiet, listening to whatever her octogenarian dadaji had to say.

The sight was surreal. I wanted to see it more closely. It was really cold, so I wrapped a shawl and went downstairs. I reached the verandah and stood at the entrance to the garden to observe.

The visual contrast between my grandfather and my cousin was stark. She was small, even smaller than the watering can she was somehow holding. At 85, my grandfather had stooped with age but still towered above her. My cousin was watering the plant. After feeding the dahlias, she got up and moved toward the roses. Then the frangrant tuberoses. Then the colourful gazanias. Then the tiny white alyssums. Then the healing tulsi.

She was meticulous in her act of watering the plants. The girl who rarely left a thing in its right place hadn’t let a single drop land outside of the flowering pots. She was not watering the plants till even the brim. Was it because it was winters and the plants needed less of it under a benign sun? I didn’t know; how could I? Forever caught in my personal preoccupations, I had rarely taken interest in taking care of another person, let alone a pet or a plant.

I thought Pinku was done after she had watered the plants, but I was wrong. She picked a broom standing in the corner of the garden and began to sweep the leaves that had fallen from the trees in the garden on to the ground. That was quite a task, to brush off every brown leaf, and not just for a little girl. Many trees lined our garden. There were a couple of neems, a guava, a leechi and a mango tree. In another corner, there were a few banana trees too, a regular feature in the houses of east India. All of them had been planted by my grandfather. An avid lover of nature, he used to sweep the garden himself till the previous winter. Between then and now, his back has aged too much for him to continue doing that anymore.

Pinku was tidying up the garden when I heard my grandfather ask her, “Why aren’t you wearing shoes?” My heart skipped a beat. I looked at her feet. He was right; on a mid-January Bihar morning, she had no shoes on. Barring the brown of the mud, they had turned white from the cold. She stayed quiet. He asked again. She replied in a pitch higher than normal, “My shoes get dirty. I don’t like that.”

I knew right away what she was doing. The girl, a third my age, was trying to protect me from looking like the mean elder sister that I was. I hadn’t liked mud inside the house, and she was trying to avoid bringing any inside.

My grandfather told Pinku to go inside and put on shoes, but by then I had stepped out from where I was standing and was walking toward them. I took the broom from her hand and told her the same. She looked at me and grinned. I think she was relieved I seemed to have forgiven her for the Walkman fiasco. With her mud-stained face—it wasn’t chocolate after all—she looked adorable.

I swept the rest of the garden. I wondered whether trees were supposed to shed so many leaves. Pinku was back soon enough. She looked happy, but still a little circumspect.  I looked at her, raised my eyebrows and asked, “What?” She carefully leaned into my ears and said, “Come I will show you something.”

I smiled and followed her to the other side of our house. She took me to the narrow space between the wall of the house and the boundary and pointed above me.

I turned around to see what she was talking about. “Let’s grab a few,” she said, looking at the guavas that hung from the branches of a tree from across our boundary slightly above my head.

“No way, these aren’t ours!” I exclaimed. “So what? They pluck our mangoes all the time,” the girl replied.

“Yes, but we have our own guava tree, right?” I asked, feeling mostly worried but just slightly excited at the prospect of stealing.

“And they have their mango tree as well! Still they do it. And they fight too,” reasoned Pinku, now holding my hand and jumping on the spot, as if doing that will somehow convince me better than just words.

She was right. The neighbours were what one could call a bit shameless. They complained about our mango branches entering what they referred to as their ‘airspace’, but the feeling of being invaded didn’t prevent them from enjoying the juicy dasheris that hung on their side of the boundary.

I gave in and decided to have my share of adventure. The branch was low but not enough for me to reach it. I told Pinku to grab the wooden stool from the garden. She brought it. I stood  on it and gave the low-hanging ones a tug. It seemed easy enough.

But just as I thought we would easily get away with our little adventure, I was proved wrong. The neighbour’s son, who had woken up early and was cleaning his teeth with a neem stick on the terrace, had seen us. “What are you doing,” he yelled. I didn’t feel scared till he screamed, “Papa-ji” so loud his voice rang across the length and breadth of the village.

What followed was a day of embarrassment. But I was not reprimanded much. I think my family felt the act was one of just retribution and were disappointed because it couldn’t be done successfully. That they never quite said that to Pinku or me is a different matter.

I spent many hours in my grandfather’s garden for the rest of my stay. I joined Pinku and my grandfather in their morning ritual of watering the plants. We went beyond the confines of the garden in our house to explore the mango orchards a little distance away. While only one of them was ours, we were free to roam around and explore others’ as well. It was winters, and we knew we had to wait till summers to actually bite into a mango. Nonetheless, the trips were fun. Between our several picnics under the warm, afternoon sun, the gardeners, who initially kept their distance, eventually warmed up to us. They even told us ‘city-dwellers’ some nature-friendly ways of taking care of plants, without relying on fertilizers.

A few weeks later, I returned to the city and Pinku went to hers. Reinvigorated, I started looking for a job and found one. My few weeks with Pinku had helped me bond with her and through her, with nature! Living in an apartment meant I couldn’t quite find the space to plant a tree, but I decided to buy potted plants for my balcony. I began with one to see how well I could do. With a little care, my roses bloomed well. I now have six plants. My balcony is now my own little garden—colourful, fragrant and a lovely reminder of the days I spent with my little sweetheart, Pinku.

 

Queen leaves me a bit underwhelmed

I love Kangana Ranaut, and I enjoyed watching Queen very much. Still, I cannot help pointing out the few things I didn’t quite like about the movie. I’m hoping I’ll get away with being the nit-picky critic who nobody likes by just saying what most of us say after a squabble with a dear friend: you fight with the ones you love the most.

Writing this didn’t take long but posting it did, because it badly offended the people I had showed it to before publishing it. Some of my closest friends told me to stop thinking too much and write more positive stuff.

I was slightly worried. I thought if my most sympathetic readers have reacted with such hostility, then I was clearly in for that angry, nasty, no-holds-barred sort of backlash readers on internet are known for and take pride in. But I decided to upload the review. That was the message of the movie anyway. Ignore the hungama. Listen to what your heart says. Also remember, not too many people read blogs, so stop being such a chicken.

Here’s my very short, very late and very negative take on Vikas Bahl’s ‘Queen’—

It is possible to warm up to, even fall in love with Rani in Vikas Bahl’s Queen even before buying a ticket to the movie. Rani is played by Kangana Ranaut, a rare genuinely feminist voice in Bollywood. In her interviews, she talks about failing to understand the fuss about movies, the people who act in or make them, marriage, and even romance. Her dismissal of patriarchy and its expectations from women is candid, nonchalant, yet polite. To the various kings of Bollywood—don’t ask; everyone knows who they are—, she refuses to pay lip service. It is a welcome change because no female actor does that. Katrina, Kareena, Priyanka, Sushmita, Deepika, Vidya, Anushka – all sound deferential to sycophantic. We all admire Kangana, and we have all been fangirling for some time now. 

To then say something even mildly critical of a role she portrays or a project she chooses to be associated with feels like a major violation of the sister code. Indeed, the movie itself is definitely worth a watch. The story is simple and told well. A 20-something Rajouri resident and a student of home science, the homeliest of disciplines, Rani wants nothing but to get married and go for a honeymoon. Her plans look derailed when her London-based fiancé calls off the wedding. Rani is heartbroken but decides to go to Paris, her honeymoon destination, alone.

A still from 'Queen'

A still from ‘Queen’

Morose, confused and klutz-like in an alien country, Rani meets and befriends a helpful, lovely and lively woman. They go clubbing together. Rani cries her heart out to her. She also has alcohol for the first time. She dances with abandon, and has a great time overall. She then travels to Amsterdam where she shares a room with three men, all strangers. She is wary of them at first, but soon finds out they are, again, warm, helpful, non-intrusive people.Finally she walks away from her fiancé, who has come to her with a renewed marriage proposal, simply because in her western attire, she now looks ‘modern’ enough.

In the end, Rani’s courage to say no to the man says a lot about her newfound desire to break free of expectations – others’ and self-imposed. Rani doesn’t need her shallow, egoist fiancé anymore, because she now knows life doesn’t have to be all about desperately finding a guy only to toe his line. She now knows it is fun and even important to travel, meet people and gain experiences. More importantly, she knows she can do it all alone.

And therein lies the problem. I feel the feminist quotient of the movie is more hype than substance, and Rani’s emancipation more apparent than real. As a woman who discovers she doesn’t need a man, she ends up being portrayed as one who doesn’t even want one much, at least in the present. I’m going to stick my neck out here and propose that what Bahl tries to pass off as Rani’s quest for independence from men is actually a way to legitimise and even glorify the complete absence of any kind of physical intimacy with the opposite sex that she might have experienced as a single woman traveling alone. That would’ve been a disturbing possibility, one that doesn’t bear thinking about and must be eliminated while a movie’s box office collections are at stake. It may sound harsh, but one of Rani’s key selling points, particularly among Indian male audiences, is that she remains nearly untouched from the beginning till the final credits roll. (I saw ‘the kiss’, and we’ll talk about it.)

A still from 'Queen'

A still from ‘Queen’

In fact, the idea of Rani as a girl ‘unsullied’ in body and mind is reinforced for most of the movie. That sort of gets to you, but you try to make your peace with it hoping she will become a bit more adventurous eventually. ‘Pure’ as the ghee used in her sweet-shop, Rani is nervous about her ‘first night’. A female relative refers to her virginity ka vrat in jest. In reply, Rani giggles and admonishes her to speak softly, because someone might overhear them. It is at this point, I think, that Rani wins the approval of 95 percent of all Indian audiences. In case someone still has a doubt, the song ‘London Thumakda’ actually mentions the word ‘virgin’. The last I remember things being so clearly spelled out in a movie was in ‘Judaai’ when Sridevi’s maid tells her with absolute certainty that the family has gone out for a picnic and no memsaab, they did not mention you even once.

Rani is endearing because she’s seedha-saada. Don’t let that mop of unruly curls convince you otherwise. In a world full of jaded women who’ve been there and done all that, such children women are a breath of fresh air. We see more glimpses of Rani’s childlike, even childish curiosity and ignorance in the scenes ahead.

On her trip abroad she buys sex-toys as gifts for her family, because she doesn’t know what they are. Once again, like a child, she lends the toys her own interpretation and explains what they are to her firang friends. This, the doe-eyed simpleton tells them about one, is a neck-massager. The friends have doubled up with laughter by now, so have cinema halls across India. But nobody is mocking the girl from Rajouri, mind you. Foolishness like this might have made a man look like a bit of a retard. Coming from a woman it’s funny, but adorably so, and never off-putting. In any case, a home science student from Rajouri cannot possibly read instructions, let alone notice the unwritten signs that a sex-toy store should have stamped all over it.

A still from 'Queen'

A still from ‘Queen’

Rani meets men, all courteous and thoughtful. She is obviously not drawn to any of them. She also meets an Italian chef. He is rude and yells at her because she innocently suggests improvements to his cooking. While he shouts, she, because she’s a girl from Rajouri and not a woman from South Bombay, promptly cowers. The chef hires her a few scenes later. It is my guess that he must have been intrigued by a guest’s unusually attractive quality to take insult from a man who other fussy visitors expect to be all courteous and shit.

In the meanwhile, Rani has obviously developed a crush on him. The message is simple: you want to win an Indian girl, you scream at her. Everyone else—tall Russian men who draw anti-war graffiti on walls and cute Japanese men determined to be happy despite a horrifying past, and ripped, gentlemanly American men— get promptly friend-zoned (The message is also wrong, so let’s stick to being polite and not try anything crazy).

The kiss is remarkably wholesome, too. When it happens, one wonders what just happened. Was it her deciding to get close to her ‘crush’? Was it her innocent desire to prove ‘Indians are the best at everything, ji’? It was both, but much more the latter. It was nice because the moment was but a fleeting one. She kisses, and walks away with a triumphant smile. Phew. Close call.

The kiss is reminiscent of that terrifying near-kiss between Shashi, played by Sridevi, and Laurent, the French guy in ‘English Vinglish’. There the gora leans in, but all he finally gets to caress are a few wayward strands of the woman’s otherwise neatly braided Indian hair. In that movie, Shashi doesn’t let India down. She feels nothing for a man who is the first in a long time to not treat her like a complete waste of space.

A still from 'English Vinglish'

A still from ‘English Vinglish’

We fear that unlike Shashi, Rani might want something more. We are relieved to know that like Shashi, Rani doesn’t. And we are thankful, for that kind of desire would’ve ruined the pleasantness of it all.

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The choice of a protagonist like Rani is always a conscious one. It is made because the idea that a woman deserves a bit of mobility and a shot at happiness can be sold to an Indian audience most convincingly if the woman appears to deserve it without a doubt. A woman in a Hindi movie deserves happiness, provided she’s above blame, flawless and, oh well, a bit of an idiot. Naiveté, credulity, compassion towards single unmarried mothers, and the ability to quiver in fear before overbearing men oozing raw sexuality are some of her qualities.

Armed with these qualities, Rani is never really the underdog that the movie wants us to believe she is. She has all that it takes to be a winner in a world where purity of a woman’s body and mind is valued above all. Sure the fiancé rejects her, but the rejection is merely a way of making her appear weak in the beginning. How else do you create the conditions for her eventual triumphant return! The idea is to build sympathy toward her. The guy is a westernised jerk who now prefers short clothes to sweet tempers. And he makes the sweet woman weep. Rani ends up being hurt. I don’t know about others, but her tear-filled eyes melted my heart, and her ‘aap mere papaji se baat kar lijiye’ request almost made me cry.

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I must stop here and let everyone know it’s quite alright to celebrate the virtue of innocence in a woman. It becomes a problem when it is projected as the only virtue worth being celebrated in a woman. Hindi cinema has been doing this forever now. It routinely selects chaste women as its protagonists. Sometimes it creates horror stories such as ‘The Dirty Picture’ to act as a warning against women who can’t keep their urge for men and money in check.

But lately, it has started packaging and selling chastity in a way that appears less out of step with our modern sensibilities. That is what Vikas Bahl does, and quite convincingly so. A drink here, a brief moment of camaraderie with a sex worker there, and in Rani, he successfully re-creates ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’s Suman, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’s Nandini, and even Cocktail’s Mira without letting anyone a whiff of what’s happening.

Starbuck-lols

So the world has lined up outside Starbucks CP. And it’s annoying the hell out of you. Why again? 

They are wasting their time, my friend. And that gives you an advantage. That gives you the time you are not spending lined up outside Starbucks. That’s additional time. You can do a lot in that time. Read. Write. Travel. Hit the gym. Watch Argo. Learn Spanish. Take a bath. 
 
Unless you are also wasting time. By worrying about it for instance. Then you are just as stupid. And annoying. 
 
(PS: Worrying about Starbucks mania and also doing a whole lot of other things? Obviously this post wasn’t for you then. Relax already.)
 
 

The Odds Don’t Matter

By Kinshuk Kumar

There seem to be these two people within me who have never seen eye to eye on any issue. They have always been at each other’s throats. I’ve known them all my life and I know exactly how either would respond to a question posed to it. Which isn’t all that difficult since one of them is a perpetual cynic while the other is hopelessly hopeful.

Now as would be expected if a guy was blessed with such a pair of friends, I’ve had considerable fun at their expense. All I had to do was ask them what they thought will happen when India plays its next one-dayer. Or if the test I was about to take would be a cakewalk or a disaster. And then I let them have a go at each other.

I never kept count but when I was younger, both seemed to be even and neither looked like a runaway winner. As the years have gone by, however, the cynic within me seems to have started defeating the optimist quite regularly. And now it has stopped being fun.

But it’s not merely because the cynic is like the all-conquering Aussie side under Steve Waugh while the optimist in me seems like the current Indian test side that can’t remember the last time it won anything worthwhile. It’s also because of the kind of questions I started asking the two of them- uncomfortable questions that I probably should not have asked at all.

A lost test match really isn’t all that bad. But it’s quite frustrating when you find the latest round of public rage against the state’s criminal neglect of the public good mellow down.  And then I can almost hear the cynic within me go, “I told you so.”

When an Anna Hazare or an Arvind Kejriwal rises in protest against the shamelessly blatant abuse of power by those who hold it or when thousands gather at India Gate to voice their anger against the pain inflicted on the women in this country the optimist, all battered and bruised, hopes that things will change for the better. The cynic, though, gains in confidence as he sees these movements fall flat on their faces, with the State using all its might to squash all protests.

The optimist within me sees hope in every single candle march, every single voice of dissent out there (on platforms both virtual and real) while the pessimist can’t help wondering if any of it would lead to any real change.

At the moment, the cynic does seem to be winning every time and the odds do seem stacked in his favour. But no matter how outrageously hopeful the optimist within me might seem I’ll still do the crazy thing and back him till the end.

(The writer is my brother. He’s also an engineer-turned-banker, a feminist, a cricket fan, a movie buff and among the most intelligent, fearless and down-to-earth people I have ever known.)

On Markandey Katju and the fine art of outsourcing protest

Justice Katju’s latest article ridiculing protesters who raise their voices against rapist-murderers was fresh proof of his prejudiced and recalcitrant mind. It’s tragic such people often slip truisms of the ‘media is celebrity-obsessed’ variety in their otherwise vile rants and end up striking a cord with way more people than they ideally should.

Justice Katju’s latest verbal fit is also symptomatic of a deeper malaise: the desire to outsource our protest and obsessively look for mass support for our cause. In other words, it articulates the desire to see our protest shouted out to the world and its TV cameras by those who have the time, energy and ability to.

This desire, if it remains just that, isn’t dangerous. It becomes so when it appears unfulfilled and causes mistrust and loathing towards that one and only group of people that can be counted on for support for any worthy cause- the protesters. Yes, that same bunch of often young, mostly ill-paid, permanently sunburned and far more dented and far less painted as a certain President’s progeny will have you believe.

So Justice Katju’s tirade was an expression of his annoyance at seeing what he thought was a bunch of women protesters obsessed with something he believes is a non-issue, or perhaps not as worthy a cause as those he (thinks he) is personally passionate about.

We should know this because we often come across less obnoxious versions of Justice Katju. We have all seen many who like their protests outsourced. There are many who hate it if the cries out there don’t exactly repeat their own.

When Bombay mourned Keenan and Reuben, what nagged at our mind was what Arundhati Roy taught us about urban protests and protesters. ‘Why no candle marches for soldiers blown up by Naxalites?’ some asked when Bombay socialites teared up over 26/11. Kashmiri Pandits are often dismissed as obsessive nuts and are judged about their silence over Gujarat. And speaking about the Gujarat riots automatically gets you branded as a fake, Congress-loving ‘pseudo-intellectual’ whose ‘pseudo-secularism’ makes her intrinsically indifferent towards Sikh or Hindu targets of violence.

Protesters tend to be specific. And that’s alright.

The truth is, it’s quite alright for an individual to feel more strongly about one issue than another. It is okay- practical even- for us to pick our battles. Barring the ideal but sanitized calls of the ‘give peace a chance’ variety, protests are almost always episodic, localized and centered around specific instances of human rights violation. A placard will either say Khairlanji or Malala or Kundankulam or Occupy or Palestine, depending on the where the placard writer is placed physically and emotionally. The underlying message is ‘down with injustice’. Invariably.

But if the average protest still appears too narrow in its focus to you, then here’s an advice- don’t do a Katju on it. It’s unproductive and sounds stupid. Be proactive and start your own protest. If your average TV anchor looks biased to you, don’t start sending her offensive tweets. Just draft and circulate your own petitions.

If your heart bleeds for Kashmiri Pandits, tell the world the injustice they have been facing. If Bhopal bothers you, then write about it every day. If Aruna Shanbaug gave you nightmares, share her story repeatedly. And if Nirbhaya woke your conscience, then blog about her for the rest of your life even if nobody cares about her anymore.

Voice your concern continuously, with or without overt support from others. Try also to lend strength to any cause which sounds worthy of support. But if you can’t, then the least you can do is not mock it.

Don’t envy or belittle the support brutalized victims manage to get. That support is really all they have. That support is really all we have.

Your open derision might successfully trigger apathy or even hostility toward ‘the other cause’ and weaken it. But it will never get support for yours.

Stay Angry, Stay Noisy

Nirbhaya’s friend recently told the world that nobody stopped to help them, and some stopped only to stand and gawk at the wounded woman. The statement is a telling indictment of our society; it reveals, yet again, just how apathetic, perverse or both a part of India has become.

However, as difficult as it might be to distance ourselves from safe, comfortable generalizations that essentially hold us all guilty of every single act of injustice ever perpetrated at any time, place or dimension, we must not make the mistake of adding this latest shameful revelation as yet another in that long list of reasons to lash out at ourselves, hurl accusations at everyone in general and no one in particular, and force the best, most conscientious among us to assume a far, far greater share of responsibility for shocking acts of brutality than what is in fact true or constructive.

Of course, turning the gaze inward is an absolute must. It is one of the important steps in the right direction which we all agree should be towards a safer, freer and egalitarian society. But there arises a problem when we allow this inward gaze to dig its claws so fiercely, so deeply and so firmly into our collective psyche that we end up placing us all, despite our capability to often be compassionate in the face of systemic odds stacked heavily against us, almost exactly at par with those who cannot but be termed as depraved, sadistic maniacs.

It often results in a far harsher indictment of those who fail to help the victim than of those who are fond of literally chewing people up and spitting them out.

Therefore, the message to the conscientious Indian is: try not to drown further in that sea of guilt a certain policeman’s death pushed you into a few weeks ago. You did not want him dead. Similarly, you were not among those who ignored those desperate pleas for help on the night of December 16. You definitely did not stand and ogle at them. You would never do that. There is a very visible line between you and scum of society; don’t blur that line, even if the apologist on TV tries to convince you otherwise. You absolutely do not represent that messed up part of the society which loots, rapes and murders and then pins its hopes on your propensity to allow remorse to completely engulf you. For it is exactly this paralyzing fear of being ‘just as bad as any of them’ that forces us to become defensive and allows blame to be redistributed to ridiculous levels of dilution.
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So stop being apologetic, resume those impassioned cries for help, and rage against the system out there, however ugly or incoherent your voice might sound to those who like their protesters well-behaved and their demands, cut and dried. Indeed, let us all, if we don’t already, stop our cars, no matter how real the fear of getting drugged-mugged-killed might be. Let us all go out of our way to help those who need it. But let us definitely not feel so ashamed of our own imperfect conduct that we stop asking why cops in three PCR vans reportedly stopped, saw the injured, squabbled over the matter and did not- in blatant dereliction of their official duty- carry the victim to the van just because they feared their uniforms might get stained.

विरोध प्रदर्शन कलंकित नहीं हुआ!

(First published today, this blog post was written during the December 2012 India Gate protests. Dubbed superficial, incoherent and worse by many, these protests will forever remain for me a heartwarming display of solidarity with victims of extreme violence and a watershed moment in the history of modern India’s struggle for human rights.)


प्रिय टीवी एंकर,

आपने आपके साथियों ने समाज को, उसमें पनप रहे हिंसा को और उसके खिलाफ बुलंद होती आवाज़ को जिस जोश और जज़्बे के साथ पूरी दुनिया को दिखाया है उसके लिए आप सब को मेरा शतशत नमन!
लेकिन आपकी एक बात मुझे गलत नहीं तो पूर्णतः सही भी नहीं लगी।

आपने कहा कि कुछ ग़लत इरादे वाले लोग विरोध प्रदर्शन में घुस आये और उसे कलंकित कर दिया। कैसे? सीटियाँ बजाकर और तोड़-फ़ोड़ करके।

सीटियाँ प्रदर्शन की वजह से नहीं बजी। सीटियाँ बजी क्योंकि कुछ लोग लड़कियों को देखकर हमेशा सीटी बजाते हैं। समाज ने उन्हें सिखाया है कि लड़कियों को देखो तो सीटी ज़रूर बजाओ। छेड़-छाड़, गाली-गलौज तुम्हारा फ़र्ज़ है। चुलबुल जी को देखिए, वो भी आजकल यही सिखा रहे हैं।

अगर इंडिया गेट पर जमा हुई लड़कियों को अभद्र बातें सुनने को मिली, तो इसका दोष प्रदर्शन और प्रदर्शनकारियों पर मत थोपिये। इंडिया गेट पर लड़कियां प्रदर्शन नहीं, पिकनिक ही करने जाती तो भी अभद्र बातें सुनती। पूजा के पंडाल में, शादियों में और बाज़ार में भी घुस आते हैं बदमाश। फिर क्या पूजा के पंडाल नहीं सजने चाहिए? क्या शादियों को अराजकता फैलने का कारण बताया जाना चाहिए? फिर तो आप लोगों से ये भी कह दीजिये कि जनाब, बाज़ार से सब्जियां लेने जाएँ तो अपनी श्रीमती जी को न ले जाएँ ,उपद्रवी तत्त्वों को बढ़ावा मिलता है!

हम सब हमेशा उस अनपढ़, जाहिल समाज पर ये आरोप लगाते आये हैं कि वो बे झिझक हिंसा झेलने वालों को हिंसा का कारण ठहरा देता है। अब आप भी उसी समाज की तरह शिकारी को छोड़, शिकार पर निशाना मत साधिये।

वहाँ एकत्रित लड़कियों को और घर पर उनके माता-पिता को बेकार ही डराइये नहीं। बल्कि उन्हें और उनके पुरुष साथियों को हौसला दीजिये। कहिये कि मित्रों, माफ़ करना कि हर रोज़ की तरह आज भी तुम पर कुछ जाहिल कटाक्ष करेंगे। कुछ लोग तुम्हारा मज़ाक उड़ायेंगे। तुम बच्चे हो, निहत्थे हो और ज़्यादातर किसी बड़े राजनैतिक पार्टी के युवा परिषद् का हिस्सा भी नहीं हो। इसलिए तुम्हें तो कुछ लोग ज़रूर परेशान करेंगे। लेकिन तुम घबराना मत। अब हमारा कैमरा और हमारी रिपोर्टर तुम्हारे साथ है-दस-बीस मूर्खों के चेहरे को टीवी पर शर्मसार करने का ज़िम्मा तो हम ले ही लेंगे!

एक और बात, एंकर बाबू। महिलाएं हर रोज़ बस, ट्रेन मेट्रो में चढ़ती हैं। हर रोज़ उन्हें कोई परेशान करता है। कोई घूरता रहता है, कोई दुपट्टा खींचता है तो कोई छूने का प्रयास करता है। अक्सर कामयाब हो जाता है। वो गुस्सा होती हैं, कभी चीखती है तो कभी चुप रह जाती हैं। पर वो ऐसी मोम की गुडिया भी नहीं हैं कि कोई छीटा कशी करे और वो अपने ही आसुओं के सैलाब में पिघल जाएँ। हर रोज़ हो रहे इस पागलपन के बावजूद हर बार अपने आपको समेटती हैं और फिर जीवन के संघर्ष में जुट जाती हैं।

प्रदर्शन करते वक़्त लड़कियों को जो परेशानी झेलनी पड़ रही है उससे वो घबरा भले ही गयी हो, लेकिन वो हर रोज़ की तरह हौसला जुटा कर फिर आगे बढेंगी। फर्क सिर्फ दो होंगे। एक तो ये कि हर रोज़ की तरह उन की झुंझलाहट सिर्फ उन तक ही सीमित नहीं रहेगी बल्कि पूरे देश में गूंजेगी। और दूसरा ये कि हर रोज़ की तरह विरोध का हिस्सा बनने की वजह से जो गुंडागर्दी उन्हें झेलनी पड़ी, वो समाज में एक बड़े बदलाव को लाने के प्रयास में होगी।

विरोध प्रदर्शन कलंकित नहीं हुआ, एंकरसाहब।

एक बार फिर, धन्यवाद।

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