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Category Archives: Newsmakers

Banno Outtakes

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you

  1. are wondering what the hell happened to it
  2. know friend-of-the-blog Banno from Banno, Dhanno and Teja in Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land

And while you’ll have to keep wondering about the blog for a little longer, I’m happy to share that I interviewed Banno for Women’s Web and we discussed things like how awesome she is and how difficult it is to be an indie filmmaker in India. No, seriously, check it out! And once you’ve read it, come back to read the outtakes.

Yes, of course there are outtakes! The interview was done in my usual expansive style, after all. I have been away a long time if you can’t remember how I like to go on and on.

Thanks, Banno!

***

Amrita: Let’s talk about India Reborn.
Batul:
India Reborn was a series for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. One of the episodes was on the Indian economy, and I worked on that as the Indian producer. An international documentary crew is typically very small, a director, a cameraman, a sound recordist, and a local producer like me. This one had a producer their end as well. My job usually is to help with finding stories, research, interviews, apart from the logistical co-ordination. I loved this job because after a long time, I worked with people who were still old-school journalists, we travelled through the country, and I learned so much about the Indian economy.

Amrita: I know from your blog that one of your British documentaries affected you deeply on a personal level.
Batul: The Slumdog Children of Mumbai came in the wake of Slumdog Millionaire‘s success. It was part of a year-long programming by Channel 4, UK. This was one of those jobs where we worked for long months, also the only job I did which was entirely during the monsoons. We had the tiniest crew: Nick Read, who was the producer, director, cameraman and sound recordist and me, working as an associate producer, conducting the interviews, etc.

It was physically grueling, the combination of rains and slums made things very, very difficult to bear at times, and I did come out of this experience traumatized.

Amrita: Any war stories?
Batul: I think the day I landed in Bhuj after the earthquake on Day 2, is the single most devastating day of my professional career. The dead bodies, the smell, the destruction of the entire city, people’s homes, and in the midst of it all trying to get a story. At that time, I was working as an associate for a cameraman who was shooting the International Rescue Corps.

I learned the gruesomeness of news in that one day, and in many ways, my own docu-feature 150 Seconds Ago was a back answer to that.

Amrita: Tell me about that experience.
Batul: 150 Seconds Ago was based on the lives of a few people in Bhuj, over the span of a year after the earthquake there in 2001. The people I followed included a rickshaw-wala, the erstwhile Maharajah of Bhuj, a doctor, a school teacher, and so on. It was very observational and exploratory, with no fixed narrative. The film travelled to many prestigious festivals including the Cinema du Reel, Paris, and the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Japan. The Yamagata Festival curators then included the film in their traveling festival package and showed it around Japan for a year.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Entertainment, Life, Movies, Newsmakers, Video

 

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Dogs, Whales and Men

My friend was outraged. The proud owner of two enthusiastic Great Danes, a mother-son duo, he’d looked forward to the male’s first official date. The breeder had shown up with an attractive female of acceptable pedigree in tow and they’d solemnly escorted the pair up to the terrace where the excited young male chased the puzzled female around for a bit.

Problem was, my friend’s dog was the runt of his litter. In fact, I think that’s why he got to stay behind with his mom – nobody wanted a Great Dane who was merely as tall as they were instead of one that towered over them. This made absolutely no difference to my friend and his family, of course. They loved him for who he was, not for a checklist of points in some breeder’s manual.

But when confronted with his new ladyfriend, certain truths had to be faced. He might have a delightful personality but he was simply too short for the job. The only way he was getting laid was if the girlfriend lay down out of pity… and she clearly wasn’t that kind of girl.

“We have another option,” said the breeder, conveying the sad news to my disappointed friend. “I could help him.”

What, get him a crate to stand on and hope she didn’t move?

“No, no,” said the breeder. “I can get a specimen from him. It’ll only take a minute.”

“He wanted to molest my dog!” my friend reported, aghast and ashen-faced. “The dirty motherfucker wanted to jerk my dog off! What kind of sick bastard suggests something like that? I threw him out of the house and told him never to come back!”

I don’t know what happened after that – for all I know, that particular dog now has a pack of half-breed puppies running around town, fathered on more convenient, shorter females. Or maybe they fixed it so he’s a lifelong bachelor. Who knows? But he certainly wasn’t depositing samples into some breeder’s test tube. Or whatever it is breeders use. (Silk handkerchiefs? Stockings? Flannel? Do I really want to know? No.)

I do remember thinking that it was a good thing my friend wasn’t born on a farm or a ranch with a breeding program because horses, cows and pigs get regularly touched in their no-no area by white-coated professionals in the faster, bigger, better business. But I guess knowing that artificial insemination exists is quite different from seeing it practiced on the pet you raised from its birth.

Like zoo animals. Let’s not forget zoo animals. Artificial insemination is the cornerstone of many a conservation effort carried out by modern zoos. It’s not always possible to satisfactorily matchmake between polar bears or giant pandas or komodo dragons… or orcas.

Tommy Lee’s letter about harvesting sperm from killer whales got my attention for the amount of time he spends obsessing about the method of extraction. Like, what did he expect? What would be a better way of getting sperm from a giant whale? They could:

  • Stand at the poolside and throw a big specimen jar into the water where the whale could deposit his business like a gentleman with opposable thumbs
  • Use a device made with synthetic fibers so the icky cross-species touching (of which neither is aware since the cow is dead, unless some unfortunate bovine is running around the United States without a vagina in which case, Jesus! forget the whale, let’s save that poor cow! or even worse, it’s a live cow with a cootchie full of hot water, and you know what? I’m going to stop right now. And the whale doesn’t know because… well, it’s a fucking whale. If it ever sees a cow*, it’ll eat it and ask questions later) doesn’t occur
  • Offer to pay $20, payable in Soylent Green or whatever it is that killer whales eat
  • Get them drunk
  • Advertise along the international killer whale route for volunteer orcas.

I don’t know if his problem is with Sea World keeping whales in a pool to perform tricks for children, or the whales being masturbated at all, or Tilikum in particular being treated as the “sperm bank”, or the method employed.

*Actually, the “cow” in question is, I think, a female orca. Which is fucked up in its own necrophiliac way but imagining a whale getting with the kind of cow that goes “Moo!” is even more screwy, so that’s what I’ll go for.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2010 in Celebrity, Life, News, Newsmakers, Video

 

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The Ginger Giant of Pink City

Personally, I thought this ad and especially its behind-the-scenes was way funnier than his new show. Conan speaking Hindi is just as hilarious as you’d expect, not to mention the sheepish-half bewildered local talent he towers over. I’m a little concerned about his upcoming remake of Outsourced though.

Noooo. Don’t do it, Coco!

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Newsmakers, Television, Video

 

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Rakhi Sawant for Prime Minister

Although the time on her clock reads well into the 16th minute, Rakhi Sawant is still going places – like the unfamiliar pages of Filmfare. The interview, a rare one from a magazine devoted to its upscale Not-Your-Mummyji‘s-Gossip-Rag brand, starts off with Rakhi flipping out at the sight of the Louis Vuitton outfit and Ferragamo shoes the team has arranged for her photoshoot.

Not in the way they were expecting though:

“Which godown have you picked up these chindis (rags) from? There is no red, green, blue, purple, no glitter. My fans will think I’ve become a bhikhari (beggar) if I were to wear such clothes.”

I think I’m supposed to laugh at her, but honestly, I’m laughing at the magazine because they just got served. Whatever her faults, Rakhi clearly isn’t a brand-fucker. Eventually they seem to have got her into an oversized Diesel tee, and a Just Cavalli top paired with shorts from Mango. Couldn’t make her let go of her pancake though. One look and I already know this is going to be the best interview Filmfare has landed in ages.

Sure enough, she talks a little about hosting her version of Judge Judy, which seems to be more Jerry Springer going by the promos, and then launches into talk of how she’s let Jesus take the wheel:

Being an item girl doesn’t mean I dance around all the time clad in a ghagra-choli. I am a good human being, a God-fearing girl. Before taking up any work, I take permission from Jesus. If it requires me to expose, I refuse it. Like I refused “Meethi Chhoori” and Ram Gopal Varma’s “Phoonk 2″ because I didn’t want to expose or be part of a horror film.

God hates slags! Just in case you didn’t know. Various other meditations follow: she’s come to realize she’s a heavenly alien “here on a transit visa” after she read the Bible. Other things the Bible taught her -

  • don’t be a bitch
  • pay taxes to God (10% flat rate)
  • it’s better to be God’s kid than a star kid. Who’re all miserable failures anyway (especially that loser Hrithik Roshan who needs his daddy to make him movies)
  • be nice to your mom and she will ask for less money
  • don’t have “dirty sex” with drugs and booze when all you need is Viagra – “alcohol is Satan’s mouthwash”
  • the Devil is behind all the hate that comes her way
  • she’s now a national icon on the level of Amitabh Bachchan
  • Shahrukh Khan’s decidedly un-Christian antics at awards shows is proof that the world is biased towards educated elites.

Well, really. Who could argue with any of that? My head throbs just thinking of it.

Q. What about your love life now?
A. I am madly in love. I am married. Jesus is my husband.

Just call her Fraulein Maria. Jesus is her Captain but if some nice, clean-living teetotaler with perhaps no money but definitely much piety were to cross her path, she’d marry him. Not that she really needs him because, let’s face it, Jesus is a tough act to follow.

In fact, she’s writing a show about the life of Jesus Christ – she’s got about 50 episodes written already – but not a single channel will put it on because they’re all temples of sin, devoted to carnality and destined for Hell. And furthermore, if Ekta Kapoor wants the honor of working with her on this project, which might save souls unlike her usual sinful stuff, she can just approach Rakhi herself!

After all, is God visiting Ekta in her dreams to advice her about the sins of plastic surgery? Nope! That would be Rakhi Sawant, thank you very much. Who is now much more famous than this Mallika Sherawat person (lurking sadly in the pages of this very issue, saying outdated things like: “Obama is a stud!” Yawn.) who is only known for taking her clothes off.

Q. Where do you see yourself after five years?
A. I see myself in Lok Sabha as a clean politician. Without wearing khadi, I’m doing a lot of social work. But you also need power to make a difference. However, everyone wants me nanga (nude) on screen. But I won’t wear a bikini or short dresses. I’m not dying to do films, I’m doing reality shows.

Well, of course! Why didn’t any of us see this coming? Get ready for Prime Minister Rakhi Sawant in 2020. She’ll be the one in a spaghetti strap handloom saree at the United Nations General Assembly, mediating a Middle East intervention where the Israelis and the Palestinians get to bitchslap their differences out on live camera. Eventually, she’ll step in and make peace based on the hard-won experiences of her tragic life, after which they will all dance together to the tune of a Bollywood item number.

Oh, you scoff now but you’ll remember this post one day.

In other news, if you hear blood has started pouring out of the eyes of a Virgin Mary near you, please don’t be alarmed. Just hand her a hanky. It’s not every day a woman gets Rakhi Sawant for a daughter-in-law.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Newsmakers, Video

 

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Sorry for the Interruption

“As The Rama annihilled The Ravan; as The Krishna annihilled The Kansa, so we are sure, The Chavan will annihil The Chou.”

– The late owner of one of India’s most famous English dailies (the first one that popped into your head is probably the right one) in 1962, at a banquet honoring YB Chavan, the new Defence Minister.

Suresh Kalmadi isn’t even tops at screwing up his speeches. The only good thing about a massively disappointing week was this little anecdote offered as a piece of dinner conversation. Normal blogging to resume.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2010 in Newsmakers, Personal, Politics

 

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Cleanup Detail

SouthIndian mothers are all the same

When Jenny McCarthy was on Oprah recently, she had a funny story about posing for Playboy for the first time – the Bunny-to-be had just stripped down for the shoot when she noticed everybody else was struck dumb. The cause? Her hairy hoo ha.

(Honestly, the things you read on this blog! While you’re at work too, you naughty thing!)

McCarthy didn’t know this was a big deal because, well, why should she? Maybe little girls these days are logging on to the internet and learning that their vajayjays are supposed to look a certain way i.e. the way it used to look before they hit puberty (God, I hope not!) but back in the day, the only person likely to tell you what to do with your bush when growing up was your mom and she was unlikely to hold up porn stars as preferred grooming idols.

Well, those days are over. Behold, the concerned parent of the 21st century: bikini waxing her toddlers for their own good. There’s even a term for this handy service that’s ideally supposed to permanently damage follicles in just a few sessions, eradicating the need for any pesky waxing, shaving or trimming as an adult – Virgin Waxing. The “virgin” in this case apparently refers to the hair growth… you know what? Excuse me a moment while I ask of the universe:

Are you fucking kidding me?!

I admit, I’m fairly conservative when it comes to things like children and their upbringing. I don’t have any but this doesn’t stop me from having opinions all the same. It is the last remnant of my conservative childhood and I hang on to it, because nothing I’ve seen out there has really challenged it or made me even come close to changing my mind.

In the way of tweens, I wanted to get my legs waxed the moment I saw a schoolmate sashay down the hall in her short skirt at age thirteen. I had the skirt all right, but I wanted those legs. Those shiny, shiny legs that looked so very adult.

“I think I’m ready,” I told my mother as she got a manicure at our salon.

“Girls are doing it very early these days,” agreed the man who usually waxed her legs, sizing me up.

Ma looked me in the face and laughed and laughed and laughed. When she finally caught her breath, she said one word: “Chee!” And that was the end of that.

In fact, I’d graduated high school before my mother would let me wax anything at all. And when I got my eyebrows done for the first time as a special treat at age sixteen for my cousin’s wedding, it was a family affair with one of my aunties standing over the poor parlor assistant’s shoulder and loudly whispering, “Don’t cry! Remember not to cry!” as my eyes watered copiously.

Of course, being a good mother, we did have talks about personal grooming. From manicure to shaving sets, cosmetics to creams, the best part of growing up with a mother who has sisters is that there’s no dearth of advice on everything from acne treatments to what is the correct amount of toilet paper.

And we eventually talked about pubic hair – but the emphasis was always on hygiene, not sexuality. In our house, grooming wasn’t just about being attractive. It sounds very corporate sloganish but every summer my grandmother would repeatedly remind me (in case my mother wasn’t doing it enough) that good grooming is about having pride in oneself. You take care of yourself because you deserve it, not to impress other people.

“This is not the way for good girls to walk around the house before the first lamp is lit in the evening,” my grandmother would say. “You should first wash, then powder your face, put on a bindi, comb and tie your hair neatly, change into freshly pressed clothes, and then come downstairs to see the first lamp. That’s what a lady looks like.”

Deep in my rebellious phase when I refused to comb my hair and adopted a hobo style (quite an ingenious feat considering my mother was still buying my clothes), I wasn’t ready to listen. But nobody pulled me down and forcibly combed my hair, nor did anybody force me to change my clothes. At the time, I thought it a victory over the Establishment. Later, I was quite puzzled because the Establishment at our home is quite capable of breaking the backs of little guerrilla efforts like that.

It took me years before I realized that part of the lesson my grandmother and mother were trying to teach me was that self-worth is something only you can determine for yourself. If they’d forced me to look presentable according to their stringent standards, as they well could have at the time, it would only have appeased their sense of worth, their image of a family member, not mine.

I don’t even want to imagine what lesson those little girls with their permanently waxed genitalia are receiving right now.

[Thanks (?), Jan!]

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2010 in Life, Newsmakers

 

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A Contralist

With encomiums ranging from “I believe M. Night can ruin the world” to “a hate crime against film lovers”, M. Night Shyamalan must be glad he doesn’t read reviews – even if mean journalists insist on reading them out to him for entertainment (mine if not yours, tenderheart!) reasons.

But no matter what they say, here are at least ten things they can’t blame him for:

10. He may serve up shit for your kids at the multiplex, but at least he never took a dump in their stockings!

9. He never sold a kid at Walmart. And if he had, he’d have charged a great deal more than $25.

8. He had absolutely nothing to do with Sex and the City 2: Harpies on Sand.

7. Mel Gibson being Mel Gibson.

6. The Great “Save Our In-Utero Lesbians” Panic of ’10. (Religious bigots take a second before commencing to fap, please.)

5. The oil spill.

4. He never wrote:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss–a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.

Of course, if he had, he’d have won a prize for it. Congratulations, Molly Ringle!

3. Abhishek Bachchan’s performance in Raavan. It was the faulty editing, you know.

2. Stealing Coco’s job.

1. Aag.

Get some rest, M. Night! Raping eyes is hard work!

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Newsmakers, Video

 

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Pygmalion Was Crazy

Does anyone remember Mannequin? The 80s movie starring Andrew McCarthy as this dork  who falls in love with a hot department store mannequin played by Kim Cattrall? Freaked me out!

In retrospect there were quite a few sketchy things going on with the premise of that movie – par for the course, I suppose, for plots based on Pygmalion – and I’m now old enough to think of all those insidious sex doll references I missed first time around, but that’s not why I was horrified by it. It was the thought of an inanimate object coming to life that really pushed my buttons.

I like the dark even if I do check under the bed for hidden monsters before I fall asleep in strange bedrooms; I have no problems with closets although I do like their doors to be closed before I put the lights out, so I can have a second’s worth of warning by the door creaking open just in case someone really is hiding in there; and I like to keep my curtains parted in spite of possible lightning strikes and Peeping Toms. But never, ever will I tolerate the presence of anything inanimate with a face on it in my room.

I will not be looked upon, especially while asleep, by photographs, the covers of books, posters, artists on CDs, cuddly toys and so on. If it has eyes, they must be turned away, hidden, covered or removed immediately. I insist.

Get. It. Out. Of. My. Goddamned. Room.

So I guess Rue McClanahan’s apartment with women moving through its doors is not for me. The boobies (and the butt, which is apparently on the other side), weird looking as they might be, are cool. Interesting as a concept, even! The face? Yeeeargh!

Tell it to stop looking at me! Me is neurotic.

[NYT via Jezebel]

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2010 in Celebrity, Newsmakers, Personal

 

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Potty Training for the Win!

Being Indian, I obviously lack the social subtleties and sense of humor required to fully appreciate Tunku Varadarajan’s examination of the Indian spelling bee champ phenomenon.

As human being, however, I am transfixed by this casual observation:

There are certain cultures–particularly Asian ones–that produce child prodigies. Relentless parents, goading their children to success at the youngest possible age, are but one explanation. These are all cultures in which, traditionally, children have begun work early, in which childhood as we know it in the West is an alien idea. Indian kids are potty-trained by two. In America, that would be regarded as precocious. Pressure is brought to bear much later on purely American children than on those kids whose parents persist in old-world child-rearing ways long after they immigrate to America.

Um, whut?

What kind of pooping monsters are y’all raising, white people? No wonder the Injuns are hunting down your wimminz with such ease.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2010 in Entertainment, Life, News, Newsmakers, Video

 

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Dressing to Please

I guess I should be happy I can wear clothes at all.

Do any of you remember the slew of articles that came out in the wake of 9/11 when people (in the West) suddenly sat up and discovered that there was a significant – significantly Muslim that is – population of women out there who walk around covered from head to toe?

Reporters were dressing up in burkhas to walk the free streets of London to find out first hand what it felt like (Answer: confining, scary, got stared at a lot. Alternative answer: safe, confining, got stared at a lot.); there were roundtable discussions on newschannels about what it meant to be an Arab and a woman and a Muslim and how they could make it all work (Answer: Arabic for “adjust maadi!”); and everybody was very concerned about how this was a violation of human rights.

I thought it would slowly fade away because it’s not like Muslim women just started covering up. I’m pretty sure they were wearing those things even before 9/11 and all they got in return were double takes and stares. But no, they’re still at it.

Meanwhile, lots of Muslim women went, “Thanks but we’ll drop you a note when we need you to talk for us because right now all you’re doing is creeping us out.” Turns out a lot of these women really like wearing the hijab/niqab to various degrees and saw it as their ethnic wear. Then a bunch of other Muslim women spoke up and said, “Hold on! We never signed on to this! Doesn’t our opinion count?”

So then everybody went back to the drawing table and it was finally decided that it was terrible that some countries (*cough*Saudi Arabia*cough*) control what women wear but if the women themselves want to wear it, then that’s because they’re brainwashed victims but hey! at least we told them so now it’s on their own head and let’s get real here for a second, is Saudi Arabia really going to pay attention to what the rest of the world thinks about how they treat their women? Ha! So enjoy snorkeling in a hijab, ladies! We hear the sea around your country is awesome. The Israeli end of it anyway.

***

My last year of high school, right before the Board exams, my friends and I were casually sauntering past the library on our way to catching the mid-morning bus home. Seniors were invited to come in a for a couple of hours each morning and put in some extra practice under the concerned teacher’s supervision if they felt they needed it and a bunch of us thought it was an excellent idea: we’d study in the morning, hitch a ride back to town, get something to eat at our favorite hangout before going home to study some more. Teen life in a small town where everybody knew who you were and what you were supposed to be doing was always a matter of extreme forward planning.

We didn’t have to dress in uniform and could pretty much do whatever we liked in school as long as we didn’t disturb the rest of the students, which was fine by us. It was like having a picnic every day and we thought it was a great way to end our school life.

So on this particular day, we’d just wrapped up and were about to go find the school bus when we heard the librarian screech: “There she is!”

We turned around and there she was, finger pointed dramatically and accusingly at… me. What had I done?

“Look at her clothes!” she screamed as though I was poking holes in her eyes.

I looked down. I was wearing my baggiest jeans, the ones that had never fit me properly but I loved to wear because it was so comfy. You could just see its shapeless legs peeping out from under my tent-like pink t-shirt, the one so large, its shoulder seams hit halfway down to my elbow. Not that this gave me a cleavage of any kind, mind you: like all Indian t-shirts sold within the country, it had a round neck that was so tiny, it would have strangled a person of the right size.

So I stood there in my hobo outfit, wearing flat ballet slippers, and completing the look with greasy hair, thick spectacles and a mouth full of steel and rubber. Damn, I thought. I should have listened to my mom when she told me I looked like a bum.

“What are you wearing, Amrita?” asked Miss X, the teacher we’d come to meet this morning, the one the librarian had apparently been complaining to.

“Uh, jeans and a t-shirt?” I said, hoping for the best.

“Well, such tight clothes are not appropriate for school,” she said with a straight face.

I looked at her. She studied her nails. The librarian looked victorious.

“Ha ha,” I said at last. Sometimes the teachers like to crack jokes. Nobody ever got them because they were incredibly lame, but maybe this was one of them?

Nope. No such luck.

“Why don’t you wear something like your friends?” she asked.

I looked at Pops and Sangs, wearing tight-fitted salwar kameezes and identical WTF expressions. Contacts placed discreetly in their eyes and no braces in sight. Then I looked at myself. If I was so inclined, I knew who I’d find attractive amongst the three of us. (Hint: it’s not me.)

I opened my mouth to argue when one of my friends jabbed me discreetly in the ribs. “Jeans,” she muttered significantly.

Ah.

Denim. Cloth of the Devil. It’s a wonder they let you buy it over the counter considering the accessories that come with it – a libido that won’t quit, teenage pregnancy with mandatory termination, the morals of a sociopath, a junkie-unwashed-hippie boyfriend, and an alarming tendency to take away the free will of all men in sight and turn them into slavering rapists by force! Oh, did I forget the Western Bug? It’s an advanced parasite that hides in your pants leg and drills into your bone, instantly changing your nationality, your morals and your personality.

For fuck’s sake! They’re pants! Durable, comfortable, easy to wear, easier to maintain, pants!

Tell that to the good fathers who ran the Catholic college I attended. In Bangalore. Shortly after I joined, they actually banned jeans on campus. No, I’m not 100 years old. This incident took place at the turn of this century, not the last. The fathers did it with the best of intentions – they were shielding the pristine minds entrusted to their care by anxious parents. I failed to understand then and I still don’t understand how wearing a skirt or salwar kameez to college protected our virtue whereas denims would absolutely destroy us.

What I did understand then, and continue to understand now, is that when you are a woman, the world is entitled to not just have an opinion about the way you dress but enforce it as well. As business school students we were required to dress in formal attire three days a week and were allowed to dress as we pleased the other two days.  The gender ratio in our class was five girls to about twenty boys. We studied together, we hung out together, we got in trouble together, we partied together, we paid the same amount of money to attend the same classes taught by the same teachers about whom we all bitched in the same rooms. For three days of the week, we were all equal. For the remaining two, five of us had an extra rule based on nothing but gender.

The ban didn’t last long, its utter ridiculousness becoming more and more apparent as the college tried to modernize itself into a sleek, Western-friendly environment in a city being touted as India’s Silicon Valley. India’s success brought down a rule based on lingering Indian bigotry. But I’ve never forgotten the sting of that relatively minor injustice.

***

The burkha is not a garment that I would wear. Unless I was hiding from the police or something. I don’t even wear a dupatta every time I put on a salwar because I often feel suffocated by things touching my neck, so the whole hijab-niqab bit is lost on me. I don’t care if it’ll make me feel warm and fuzzy like I’m back in my m0ther’s womb, I don’t want it.

Other women do for various reasons of their own. It’s hard to understand them from where I stand but you know what? They don’t need me to understand. I’ve never in my life put on a set of clothes hoping some random person I don’t know and will never know, somewhere out there in the big wide world, approves and understands my sartorial decisions. Why shouldn’t the woman who wears a niqab have the same right?

That said, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a journalist I greatly admire even when I find myself disagreeing with her, makes a strong point when she says:

We communicate with each other with our faces. To deny that interaction is to deny our shared humanity. Unreasonable community or nationalistic expectations disconnect essential bonds. Governments should not accommodate such demands. Naturists can’t parade on the streets, go to school or take up jobs unless they cover their nakedness. Why should burqaed women get special consideration?

Why? Because there actually are women living in the West today who cover themselves not out of choice but because that is the requirement for stepping outside the house at all.

Take for instance the woman who was fined for wearing a burkha in Italy. Her husband thinks their only alternative now is for her to just stay where she’s put, where nobody else can look at her. A law meant to “help” her ended with her imprisonment.

Europe’s response to Islamic nations forcing their women to dress a particular way is to tell Muslim women living in their countries how to dress, thus isolating them even further. Well! That’ll certainly show those stupid women in Saudi Arabia and Iran and elsewhere!

Amazing, isn’t it, that the right and the left come at it from two completely different political viewpoints, but they agree on one thing: the best way to help a girl out is to tell her what to wear. Once you’ve taken away her choice in this one thing, she will magically find herself surrounded by a multitude of “correct” choices and the world will be a better place. For her and for you.

India doesn’t have this problem, of course. Shikha Dalmia thinks it’s because India has a secular ideal based in the tolerant strands of Hinduism. Maybe. I think it’s because conservative Hindus up north practice their own version of the burkha. Any Indian politician who runs around saying Muslim women need to set aside the veil runs the risk of running into hordes of pissed off Hindu men vehemently opposed to their women taking the pallu of their sarees off their face.

***

So, basically, I wanted to say: Argh.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2010 in Life, News, Newsmakers, Personal, Politics, Video

 

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